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Embracing Our Finitude: A Biblical Foundation for Human Limit

by Stephanie Nance

Dr. Stephanie Nance serves on staff with the Network for Women in Ministry and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and speaks at churches and conferences. She holds a Master of Divinity in expository preaching and a Doctor of Ministry degree. An ordained minister with the Alaska Ministry Network, she is passionate about narrative preaching, spiritual formation, and ministering hope to the broken. Stephanie currently lives in Missouri where she is learning to trust God with the mystery of "not knowing." Connect with Stephanie at www.stephanienance.com

The June sun relentlessly beat down on me as I swerved into the restaurant parking lot a bit too fast and several minutes late. Already seated, Peggy warmly greeted me. I had always admired Peggy as a person and fellow woman in ministry, so I was excited to join her for dinner.

As she finished her chicken, Peggy pushed her plate away, leaned back in her chair, looked at me and said, "I invited you to dinner because I've been where you are. You're burned out, and we both know it's the worst possible timing for it."

She paused as silence quietly joined us. "I'm going to do for you what others did for me;" Peggy continued, "I'm going to come alongside you and help you through this season."

Head down, I toyed with the napkin in my lap as tears slowly escaped. Someone had noticed what I tried to hide - I was living beyond my limit. We spent the rest of our time together discussing what I needed to remove so I could thrive in the months ahead.

I've always had a difficult time admitting when I'm beyond my limit. As a kid I remember catching the toaster on fire in a friend's kitchen and debating if I should ask an adult for help. Once I decided it was for the best, I found my friend's mom and calmly asked her to come to the kitchen as opposed to exclaiming, "Help! Fire!" To admit I needed help would signify I was over my head.

God designed us as finite beings and confirmed, "It was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Think about that for a moment: We are limited, created beings - and it is very good! It's God's responsibility to be limitless, not ours. Our limited condition did not result from sin; however, sin does reside in our attempt to usurp His design. From the beginning, the enemy has sought to dissatisfy us with our limits, igniting a desire to be and to do more than God intended. Perhaps the time has come for some of us to return to God's created plan and embrace our finitude.

We are limited, created beings - and it is very good! It's God's responsibility to be limitless, not ours.

Created to Trust

In the eyes of modern humanity the Garden of Eden exists as a utopia. It remains the epitome of a euphoric existence to which we often long to return. Eden represents a place of harmony prior to sin's entrance and grip on us. Genesis 1-2 describes the account of creation, depicting a Creator engaged with His creation and the creatures He made to dwell there. The narrated account of creation fills the mind with images of joy, wonder, discovery, love, and God delighting in and with humanity. As wonderful as Eden was, a close look at Genesis 2-3 reveals that even in the Garden limits existed. God's infinite being held knowledge and understanding that His finite creatures, Adam and Eve, did not possess, nor were designed to possess. God actually intended for them to depend on Him, requiring trust.

In Genesis 2:15-17, God initiates relationship with His creation by entrusting His garden to them. 1 He gives trust, and then asks for it in return by requesting that Adam and Eve not eat of the tree of knowledge. God places certain knowledge within their reach, yet out of His wisdom asks them not to partake of it. The Creator in His omniscience knows what boundaries to place on His creation. He does not tell them why, nor does He need to explain; their relationship thrives in trust.

Deceived by Autonomy

A serpent arrives on the scene as Adam and Eve dwell together in the Garden (Genesis 3:1,6). Addressing the woman, the serpent offers a reason for God not wanting humanity to partake of the tree of knowledge. He plants the thought that God is withholding something good from them, sowing mistrust in the relationship between the Creator and humanity. 2 The serpent craftily calls God's integrity into question. "You will not certainly die ... . For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (verses 4,5). The serpent leads Eve to believe that God withholds a greater good that will elevate life for the better. 3 In other words, "Eve, God is limiting you! You could be so much more if you move beyond this imposed limit." (Is this not the lie that gets us into trouble today?)

Eve considers what the serpent says and reasons for herself. Deceived, "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it" (Genesis 3:6). Adam and Eve choose to believe that autonomy offers a limitless freedom that a trusting, dependent relationship with their Creator seems to lack. Instead of dwelling in trust that the omniscient God knows what limits to establish, they push the bounds of those limits, realizing too late that they were not equipped for such knowledge.

Defying what God designed and living beyond our limits is embracing the lie that we can be more on our own than with God.

Designed for Dependence

Defying what God designed and living beyond our limits is embracing the lie that we can be more on our own than with God. One of the frustrating realities of our finitude resides in the fact that human limit varies from person to person. God designed it this way to teach us to humbly depend on one another. What might be a limit for me is not one for you. Something I can do might prove beyond your limit. Such vast limits allow God to use others in our lives, beautifully displaying an aspect of His image through another person.

Our limits also serve to remind us we are the created, not the Creator, positioning us to rely on the Spirit's empowerment. The Spirit of God, however, should not serve as an excuse to abuse ourselves and others by pushing past designed limits and making people seem less spiritual for having them. God's Spirit empowers us to do what He calls us to do; we do not take the Spirit's role, calling people to do what we want them to do. Living as if we don't have limits defies God's wisdom in creating us dependent on Him and others. Living a life honoring our limits gives God room to display His limitless ability, ultimately bringing Him glory through our lives.

Modeled by Jesus

Jesus' life on earth serves as our model to follow. Too often we thankfully receive Jesus' forgiveness for our sins, but fail to find His life relatable. However, Jesus' words and actions transpired within human limits and conditions. 4 While Jesus reflected the image of God among humanity, He also reflected the image of recreated humanity before God. 5 Through Jesus, we see what it looks like to be a human being participating in God. 6 Jesus lived out the trusting relationship with the Creator that Adam and Eve failed to embrace. He willingly limited himself while on earth without ceasing to be God, electing to live as a human depending on the power of the Spirit to sustain Him and help Him in His work. 7 In doing so, Jesus demonstrates "what is possible when one lives in dependence on divine resources." 8

As ministers, let's embrace our humanity and teach others how to do so as well. We honor God's finite design for us by resting at home when there's yet another conference to attend, asking for help from others whose skills exceed our limits, and scheduling time for silence and solitude even when an endless line of people sit outside our office door. For generations like mine that have grown up with Superman and Wonder Woman heroes, we need ministers like Peggy who will offer us a reality check when it comes to our limits, reminding us that this grand story of redemption already has a death-defying Hero, and we are not Him.

Scripture quotations are from HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.

ENDNOTES

  1. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 46.
  2. John Skinner, Genesis, 2nd Edition, The International Critical Commentary, (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1930) 75.
  3. Allen P. Ross, Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 136.
  4. Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans, 2005), 34.
  5. Ibid, 34.
  6. Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Rediscovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 173.
  7. Anthony Palma, The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 2001), 48.
  8. Klaus Issler, "Learning from Jesus to Live in the Manner Jesus Would If He Were I: Biblical Grounding for Willard's Proposal Regarding Jesus' Humanity," Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 3, no. 2 (2010), 179.