“The first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos.”
— Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History
When you think about freedom, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, the idea of freedom is a place without the constraints or limitations that we feel are holding us back in one way or another.
Limitations, however, can also be the path to clarity. It is often limits — or boundaries — that can spark our deepest creativity. When there is a limitation, even one we set for ourselves, we often have to think more deeply about how to achieve what we want or need to do. And sometimes these solutions are far better than anything we would otherwise have come up with if there had been no limitation.
Another example of limitation that produced unexpected — and extraordinary — results was with Moses and the experience of bringing the Law to the people. So here’s Moses, trying to wrangle a bunch of people who had just been set free from slavery in Egypt. They are free, alright, but rather than acting on that exciting new sense of freedom in positive ways, they are fighting and grumbling constantly, and Moses is having to sit as judge from sunup to sundown.
Then Moses goes up Mount Sinai and comes back with a gift of grace: the Law. It is the word of God with the ultimate set of limitations — the Ten Commandments. This covenant with God sets boundaries for these people that then becomes a structure for their community. As they then begin to strive to relate to one another in life-giving ways instead of anarchy, an unexpected grace is revealed. Under this covenant they began to live together and respect one another and to be accountable to one another.
Sometimes we may think of limitation as restrictive and spirit killing, when in fact it is a gift of grace that enables us to live more fully and creatively — and even become more connected with others.
I invite you to ponder these questions: When in your life have you experienced a limitation that became the cornerstone of a creative solution? What was the grace that came along with the limitation?
I look forward to exploring this idea of Grace with you this Sunday as we continue our Listen for Grace Lenten sermon series with “The Word in the Wilderness: Grace is Limitation.”
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You must have no other gods before me.
Do not make an idol for yourself — no form whatsoever — of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.
Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it — not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Do not kill.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.