Here’s a question I get a lot.
“Pete, thanks for ruining my life, my relationships, and everything I ever held dear about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Without you I would not be feeling this exquisite pain.”
So that’s wonderful, but they always ruin it with a “but.”
“But where are the boundaries? Where does it stop? How far do you go?”
The more we talk about the Bible—Old and New Testaments—as ancient documents, with ancient contexts, and meanings, and purposes, the less special and unique it feels. It begins to get hard to distinguish what is different, or if I may say, better, about Christianity and the biblical story vis-a-vis any other religion, or even no religion at all.
“Where are the boundaries?” is a very, very good question—I would say enormously important—that occupies many of us. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind quite a bit, too.
Having said that, I’m not really interested in answering that question. At least this point in my life. So sue me.
You can do what you want. I’m just telling you what I think.
I feel I need to let go of building those boundaries because my entire Christian life has been about doing that very thing—creating and holding tightly to thoughts and categories that kept my boundaries neat, clear, and safe from attack.
Only to find, as I lived more and experienced things I never would have scripted, that a good deal of that hard work I put into building my container looks sort of . . . meh . . . Okaaaay, I guess, but not as awesome as I thought.
Sort of like the last woodstacking job I did, which took forever, only to look at it the next day and see it’s slanty, top-heavy, and too tall. I hope no robin decides to land on it. It will never make it to winter.
Anyway, don’t worry too much about what those thoughts and behaviors are for me. Worry about yourself. Plus that’s not the point. The point is that I spent my “first half of life” building structures that now seem inadequate for me—not altogether wrong but more “not up for the task.”
I understand the energy behind the question of boundaries, and I feel it myself. And the time to explore it more intently (rather than just now and then) will likely happen, if I know my personality well enough.
But for now it is spiritually necessary for me to let that go. I have to keep training my right-brain-German-male self to let go of the fear of not knowing. That’s my priority.
If you are someone who has the same question about where the boundaries are now that the landscape looks different, perhaps answering that question should not be priority one.
Once the unfamiliar reshaping of faith begins, our tendency is to want to snap back to that place of comfort as soon as possible—even if that comfort is of a new and strange sort. Whereas the boundaries were once drawn too narrowly (and we know that now), we still want boundaries drawn somewhere, and quickly.
Even if those boundaries lie unseen beyond the horizon, we want to know that they are at least there and that we will see them if we walk just a bit further.
That is the very process I am letting go of—that need to see, if even dimly, how it all comes together.
And that’s what I mean by “The Sin of Certainty.” Not that feeling a sense of certainty and “fit” is sin. Not at all. Rather, once the familiar begins to feel strange and inadequate, sin is seeking to stay put or venture out a few short steps only to turn back quickly.
Sometimes we just need to say, ”Well things have changed. I don’t know where the boundaries are, and that’s OK.” Keeping those boundaries tight or seeking to find new ones too quickly, though it may look like an act of faith, may very well be an act of fear instead.
Sooner or later I think we all get to the point where the expression of our faith (not a lack of it) takes the form of letting go of the need to maintain boundaries. I see that as an important, and perhaps inevitable, part of the life of faith.