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April 5, 2022

Living Within the Limits

Sometimes our human limitations frustrate us. Sometimes they discourage us. Sometimes they anger us. Ultimately, however, despite how we may feel about them moment by moment, our human limitations are gifts that point us toward God’s limitlessness.

This year marks my thirty-seventh journey through the season of Lent. I obviously don’t remember many of those earliest journeys, but the last several years have been a corkscrew of sorts in my life, helping me drill deeper and deeper into this season of the Christian year as one of real participation in the life and death of Christ. The landscape of Lent provides intentional, Christocentric space for self-examination. It is an open invitation to all people, near and far, to acknowledge our sin (Psalm 51:3-5), to embrace our mortality (Genesis 3:19), and to return to God (Joel 2:12-14) through disciplines such as fasting, repentance, and sacrificial giving (Matthew 6).

My Lenten guide this year has been Job. You remember Job, right? Job, the blameless and upright. Job, from the land of Uz. Job, “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). Job, the subject who experienced what must easily be accepted as one of the worst days ever on record. Job, the one who spoke truth about God (Job 42:7). During this season of Lent, Job has been teaching me (with help from Carol M. Bechtel’s “Knowing Our Limits: Job’s Wisdom on Worship”) what it looks like to embrace my humanity, and to live faithfully within those limits.

Lately, I have been clearly feeling the boundaries of my human limits. Years of COVID unknowns have made me acutely aware of the limits of even our best human knowledge. Every day I wake up feeling one day older than before, reminding me of the limits of my human body. Welcoming two additional foster children into our family over the past four months has created a minute-by-minute reminder of the limits of my human energy, patience, and compassion. And serving as a worship pastor during another busy Lenten/Easter season opens my eyes to the limits of my human gifts, insights, ideas, and time. I’m guessing you can relate.

It seems that whatever we humans possess, we possess in limited supply. Over the course of just one day, I find myself wishing for more of just about everything: more time, more ability, more patience, more understanding, more help, more empathy more. . . . you name it!

Perhaps as much as almost anything else, it is our limitedness that defines what it means to be human — what it means to be created. We can test our limits. We can press our limits. And sometimes, we can even stretch our limits. But we can never eliminate them.

It seems that Job, too, felt his limitedness. After enduring what could only be described as his worst nightmare, Job has no answers or explanations. He has no ability to comprehend his circumstance, no knowledge to explain his experience. But what Job does, however, is profound: he takes the questions, frustrations, heartaches, and anger that arose from his limited human knowledge, and he turns to God — the One who understands the way to wisdom, the One who “alone knows where it dwells” (Job 28:23).

When pressed up against the boundaries of his own limitations, Job turned to our limitless God.

It is true that whatever we possess, we possess in limited supply. It seems we run short on every good and gracious resource in our lives. But God does not. We approach our problems with limited strength. But God does not.

We approach our frustrations with limited patience. But God does not.
We approach our work with limited energy. But God does not.
We approach our shortcomings with limited grace. But God does not.
We approach our lives with limited control. But God does not.
We approach our neighbors with limited mercy. But God does not.
We approach our temptations with limited willpower. But God does not.
We approach our troubles with limited hope. But God does not.

Sometimes our human limitations frustrate us. Sometimes they discourage us. Sometimes they anger us. Ultimately, however, despite how we may feel about them moment by moment, our human limitations are gifts that point us toward God’s limitlessness. They remind us that, where our own power or wisdom or energy or love runs short, there is a God who sits above and beyond it all — a limitless God who is the unending source of every good and perfect gift.

So, as we finish this season of Lent, I encourage you to journey with Job — to embrace living within the limits of your humanity. Recognize them as a gift that points you toward God and His limitlessness. And remember that, while Lent is our participation in the life and death of Christ, Easter is our participation in the resurrection of Christ — the time when we will awaken to our participation in the eternal life of our limitless God.

Dr. Anthony Bolkema serves as the pastor of worship and ministry at First Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois. Anthony’s heart as a worship pastor is to plan and lead liturgies that are biblically based, spiritually formative, missionally oriented, and appropriately contextualized. Anthony and his wife, Kim, have five children, and they greatly enjoy living, working, and worshiping together in South Holland.