It’s been a while since I wrote an article for LICC’s ‘Connecting with Culture’ blog, but they kindly invited me to write one last week.
As the name suggests, the articles all have to take some cultural event or phenomenon and show how the Bible speaks into it. I picked an event which illustrated a cultural preoccupation: the launch of astronaut Tim Peake’s autobiography, Limitless, and the drive to achieve one’s potential.
As ever, there are always many factors that feed into getting an idea, and with LICC’s strict 400 word limit (I think I might be two words over the limit this time!), no space to reference them all. A key one that has been buzzing around for me for a while forms the title of this blog. The limitations have purpose.
It came from a conversation I was having on Twitter with the writer Hannah Anderson. The context would take too long to explain (you can follow the thread back from here if you’re interested), but eventually Hannah said she believes the reason the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to each of us, and gives no one all the gifts, is “for the purpose of drawing the body into mutual dependence & humility. The limitations have purpose.”
That phrase really jumped out at me. In our culture we hate having limitations. We are always seeking to overcome them, and have a great admiration for people who seem able to do anything. We live in a hugely aspirational time, and though it is not quite as strong in the UK as in the US, the equivalent of the ‘American Dream’ is filtering across the Atlantic. You can have anything if you only work hard enough for it, believe in yourself and follow your dreams.
As philosopher Michael Sandel points out in his new book, The Tyranny of Merit, the trouble with this is, we can’t all get the top grades, win the promotions or join the space programme. If it’s all up to you, then it’s all your fault if you ‘fail’.
What if life were meant to be lived in community, in family, with different members possessing different gifts, skills and abilities, and all needing each other? What if our limitations are a gift, not a curse? As Jen Wilkin points out in her book None Like Him, only God is infinite and all-powerful. He has put limits on what we are able to do, and on what we are authorised to do, and these are for our benefit. If we were truly capable of achieving everything we set our minds to, we would have no need of other people and no need of God. To be self-sufficient is to be lonely. To be all powerful (without also being entirely holy) is to be arrogant.
In the last months we have seen more clearly than ever how much we need and value one another – not just for the things others can do for us, but because being together is better than being alone. Next time you find yourself frustrated that you just can’t master a certain skill, or that someone else has got an opportunity that you wanted, or that you’re getting overwhelmed and need to ask for help again, remind yourself that it is not a fault or a failing. It’s part of the design plan. You don’t have to be the best at everything all the time. The limitations have purpose.
To read my LICC version of these thoughts, click here.