Blessed freedom, blessed limitation
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
The human being’s limit is at the center of human existence, not on the margin…There where the boundary—the tree of knowledge—stands, there stands also the tree of life, that is, the very God who gives life. God is at once the boundary and the center of our existence.
Creation and Fall Dietrich Bonhoeffer quoted in You’re Only Human, Kelly Kapic
The result of busyness is that an individual is very seldom permitted to form a heart.
Journal Entry, Soren Kierkegaard quoted in You’re Only Human, Kelly Kapic
I’ve only just begun reading this book by Kelly Kapic, You’re Only Human. I suppose you can guess what the book’s about, but here’s a quote from the beginning to give you an idea of it: ‘Many of us fail to understand that our limitations are a gift from God, and therefore good. This produces in us a burden of trying to be something we are not and cannot be.’ In other words, his book is reminding us of our human limitations. He describes this a few ways and mentions how the normal life of a high school and college student indoctrinates our youth in a wrong headed way of life (this isn’t everyone, but it is common). There is no time set aside for rest from the day’s work, there is no time set aside on Sundays to rest and worship. Instead, we have school, sports, homework, extra-curriculars, and all the rest. We teach kids the ideal life is one of busyness. And it is in this busyness that we think we have found meaning.
But we have to begin, as Kapic does, in the garden of Eden. Before the fall, we were still limited, still human, and it was good. In the fall of man, and then since, we are tempted to go beyond the boundaries of our created existence. We were told not to eat the fruit, and we did. We were told to spread over the whole earth, and we built the tower of babel. We were told to worship the invisible God according to the plan God gave on the mountain, and lo and behold, somehow or other a golden calf appears in our midst, better worship it, I guess. Humanity is tempted to transgress boundaries, and we think it’s almost necessary. Just think of track and field sports. The guy who broke the 10 second barrier is a hero. And then the world record holder in general is a rockstar. Breaking barriers is part of our common parlance in a positive way. But we don’t talk much about living within our limits. When our age catches up with us, we fight as hard as we can to lengthen youth through exercise or elixirs or potions. We don’t like limits. I know on one side of my family it’s almost a genetic trait to be a workaholic. From grandparent to child to grandchild. A workaholic doesn’t set boundaries for rest. By living as a workaholic without limitations, we’re denying our very humanity, we’re not living with humility about our created state.
And this is what’s interesting about these quotes Kapic shares, ‘The result of busyness is that an individual is seldom permitted to form a heart.’ As quirky as Kierkegaard is, he’s not wrong on this point. Our busyness doesn’t lead us into a place of wise maturity but stunted adulthood. Although my grades weren’t stellar, one thing I accidentally fell upon by college was the unhurried life. Perhaps it was to compensate for my ADHD, I think in part. But I intended to take my classes intentionally to learn, and not for the grade. So my GPA wasn’t terrible, but in the unhurried way of life, I think I gained a certain understanding of my limitedness whether poking through the library for a paper or for fun or sitting in the end lounge with friends reading a random book I ordered off of Ebay more as a curiosity (The City of God). Bonhoeffer too mentions the historical necessity for limiting ourselves as grounded in God’s command. God limits us by his word, and it isn’t a bad thing. We all want to reach the higher shelf, get a better position, achieve a certain respect with family, to be known, but what if our most basic need was to have life? Of course, it is almost too obvious to say that. But we often are hindered by lesser things and tempted to make them the main thing. We’re not really happy, even with the joy of the tree of life being ours. We’re not content that the spring of living water is ours. We’d rather have those things in Christ, plus the next thing. Can’t I also touch that good fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? It can’t hurt! Did God actually say? Did he actually limit you in your desires? Shouldn’t you just get what you want any and every time?
And here we run into something important. Christians are called to be members of the same body. One way that we’re happy in our limited state is to realize that we are part of the body of Christ, and this is expressed in local churches where we gather to remember our highest and truest joy is not in fulfilling our desires but in pursuing the good life that God has called us to. He made a garden of delightful fruit for Adam and Eve to be satisfied in (and they fled from it in disobedience). He has given each of us certain vocations, as a mom, dad, student, neighbor, grandparent, son, daughter, friend, member within the body, worker in a secular workplace, homemaker, pastor. And in these places there are peculiar burdens, limitations, and hardships, but there is the potential to flourish in the contentment found in God’s rest. If you have put your faith in Christ, your daily repentance is a forever turning to the only lasting satisfaction and hope there is: life in Christ, life through Christ. And in Christ we have a blessed limitation and a blessed freedom. We are limited from evil, but we are free to pursue good. And we are especially free to rejoice in God who made it all and is bringing it all to fruition.