Boundaries: A visible expression of love
One of the questions that I’m often asked is, “If God knew that we would sin, then why did he give us free will?” “After all, if God is all knowing, he knew that the urge to eat the forbidden fruit would be far too much of a temptation for the humans he had created, so why would he do that?” That’s a good question, and it’s a troubling one, because, underneath that question is the unasked one…the question that implies that God, being fully aware of the pain, the tragedy and sorrow that would be unleashed on the world when temptation had overcome the first humans, was ultimately responsible for these things. As I pondered this question over the past few days, it was made particularly relevant as I watched the unfolding disaster in Japan.
This isn’t an easy question, and there aren’t any quick or easy answers. However, in the course of my preparation this week, I came across an idea that I think might be helpful. It was this: “Boundaries are the visible expressions of love.” What the writer was getting at was that boundaries as we all know necessary and good, but they are also a way of expressing love.
It’s like this. For those of you who are parents, you know that you put boundaries in place for your children because you love and care about them, without good healthy boundaries, our children would be unable to function in the world around them. That’s how we love our children. Loving our children sometimes requires saying no, and it would seem to make sense that it’s the same with God. God’s love for us comes wrapped in limits and boundaries.
So too, does loving ourselves mean that we set boundaries. Boundaries about keeping a balance between work and play, watch what we eat, how we spend our money so that we can plan for our retirements, we vote, we pay taxes and we keep our walks cleared. That’s loving ourselves and it’s loving our neighbours.
In our relationships, we adhere to boundaries, so in order to preserve and care for them. We show our love for our spouse by not cheating on them, we show our love for our neighbours by not playing loud music or mowing our lawns at 3 am. Even in our relationship with the creation we demonstrate our love and respect for it by limiting our consumption and setting boundaries: we recycle, we compost, we are relearning to grow our own vegetables, to buy locally, to change our driving habits and buy smaller more efficient vehicles. We do all these things out of respect and value, and after all it is pretty difficult to love something you don’t respect and value. We voluntarily limit ourselves because we love. So too, the boundaries and limits that God gave us in the Garden, are limits that give us an opportunity to make our love and trust of God visible.
Even though in our imaginations, we might think of the Garden of Eden as a place where everything was rest and relaxation, a place where all our needs were taken care of, a place where charming waiters placed perfectly washed and ironed napkins on our laps when we sat down and where each night we as we got ready for bed, we found our bed perfectly turned down and a chocolate on our pillow…..oh wait, that was the cruise ship……
But that wasn’t the way it was. Eden wasn’t heaven on earth, it was a living, growing garden, with animals to care for, with fruit to gather, and messes to tidy up…God had put the man and woman in the garden to tend and care for it. It wasn’t an all you can eat buffet, there were no cleverly crafted towel animals on their beds, it was a place that was vital and fecund and that meant it came with all the untidiness and disturbance that a place that is full of life contains. And there were boundaries and limits. Although they had freedom, that freedom came with limits. Limits that were a vehicle for the man and woman to show their love for God…..It was a way to show value and respect for God and for each other…to say to God “We love you.”
When I think about all this in the light of the Gospel, I’m reminded of that day on the beach after Jesus resurrection when he comes to Peter…remember him? The disciple who had betrayed Jesus three times by disowing him, refusing to admit to his relationship with Jesus…Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus to those who asked. On the morning in question, Peter and his friends came ashore after a long night fishing and discovered Jesus making breakfast on the beach. Jesus turns to Peter and asks him “Do you love me?’
“Do you love me?” This questions echoes down through all of scripture, beginning in the garden. “Do you love me?”
In the garden, it was “Do you love me enough to trust that I know best for you?”
In the wilderness with Abraham, it was “Do you trust me enough to leave your home and family and follow me?”
In the wilderness of the Sinai desert as God’s people fled Egypt, God asked “Do you love me enough to trust me to lead you to a new land?”
To David, he asked “Do you love me enough to trust me to sustain you, to stay close to you, to use you to further my plan in the world , to trust only me and not in your own resources?”
Of Solomon, he asked “Do you love me enough to not turn away from me and to other gods?”
And to us today, the question remains “Do you love me?” Do you love me enough to serve me, to follow me into places that feel uncomfortable and strange and new? Do you love me enough to care for this world I gave you? Do you love me enough to work with me to show my love to those who don’t know me or understand me?” “Do you love me enough to follow my commandments?’
And sadly, the answer has often been no.
That’s the bad news, but the good news is that in Jesus, the prediciment we have found ourselves in has been reversed. In the wilderness Jesus was tempted, just as Adam and Eve were tempted to cross the limits. The temptation came as a taunt: “If you are the Son of God then…..” Yet over and over again, Jesus refused to trespass the boundaries, he choose to trust God for all he needed, rather than give into the temptation to use his own power to meet his needs. At this moment Jesus fully embraced the limits and boundaries of humanity. He could have done exactly as Satan had said. He could have turned the rocks into bread, he could have swooped across Jerusalem like a bird, drawing all eyes to him, he could have used his power to gain control and authority, but instead he choose to trust God. He choose to live within the limits of his humanity, and by doing so, he overcame the power of sin and death…the power that separates us from God. He overcame our need to be our own god, rather than trusting in the God who loves us and embracing our own humanness, our own created-ness. To learn to live in the freedom of being content with who we are and whose we are.
The first humans got it all wrong; refusing to accept the boundaries of their humanity, failing to love God, demonstrating their love for God through their obedience.
Jesus got it right, he accepted his humanity and choose to be obedient and by doing so to put us in the right. Because e of our decision to call him Lord, and our adoption as his children, we, like him are able to embrace our humanity and demonstrate loving obedience. The incarnation of Jesus, Emmanuel, reveals to us that it is good to be human, and that we don’t need to be our own gods.
The season of Lent invites us to join with Jesus in that life of grace and love and trust. Lent invites us to embrace our humanity, to demonstrate our love of God by repairing the breaches in the boundaries that God has put in place to keep us in right relationship. Lent invites us to embrace the reality of our humanity, to recognize that we are not God….and that is a good thing…it invites us to relearn what it is to live in a holy and life-giving relationship with God. As we begin our Lenten discipline, remember that the purpose of all of this fasting, alms-giving, Scripture study, praying and self-offering, is to help us to live drawer closer to God.
Lent is a season to relearn how to visibly show our love for God by living within the boundaries that God has given us, boundaries that keep us in a life-giving love relationship with the One who created, sustains and loves us. As we enter this season of penitence and self-examination, let us rejoice, knowing that even as we struggle with temptation, it is the means through which we are making our love for God visible. After all who ever said love was easy?