The Limitation of Christ

I can’t resist a good pun, and the only thing I like more than a good pun is a really bad one. Yesterday when I was restocking books at the store where I work, I looked at Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ and thought “somebody should write a book called The Limitation of Christ.” More cutesy than clever, I thought, and so obvious that it had probably been done a trillion times. So I was surprised when I couldn’t find a book on Amazon.com with that title; indeed, when I googled “Limitation of Christ” all I could find was a MySpace Blog from a band in the UK called the Limitations (I couldn’t figure out their connection to Christ, so I figured they are just as hopeless for bad puns as I am).

I guess all the thoughtful (and bottom-line savvy) editors of the world have prevented poor idiots like me from actually publishing a book with such a horrendous title. Still, I think there’s a place within the Christian literary canon for a work that seriously addresses the question of how Christ is (or is perceived to be) all about limits. Christians might be quick to say, “wait a minute: Christianity isn’t about limitations, it’s about hospitality.” But is that how non-Christians see things (and by “non-Christians” I mean those who either have been part of the faith and became alienated, or those who grew up outside the church, but close enough to see just what it looks like from without). After all, in the eyes of so many young people today, the purpose of Christianity can be summed up in three sentences: “If you’re single, don’t have sex until you’re married. If you’re gay, don’t ever have sex. And if you’re pregnant, don’t have an abortion.” Sure, those of us who have tasted the crystalline waters of the Christian mysteries might howl in protest at such a caricature of our faith, but outside the walls of the church (and I do mean “walls”), that’s about how it looks. You want to accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? Get ready to live under these (and many more) limitations.

For the believer, the structure of our faith isn’t so much about limitations as about boundaries, hopefully sensible, logical, and life-enhacing boundaries. But it’s not easy to defend the fact that the Bible is so hard on homosexuality even while it is embarrassingly tolerant of slavery. The limitations of Christ, alas, seem to be one of the main limitations that prevent people from getting totally blown away by the amazing experience of a life transformed in his Spirit.

We Christians need to take a good, hard, long and honest look at the limitation of Christ. To what extent do we impose upon him our human-made limitations, borne out of our fear, blindness, prejudice, and need to separate “insiders” from “outsiders”? And once we honestly answer that question, then the obvious next one: so what are we going to do about limiting our own propensity to create limitations that hurt others (as well as ourselves)?

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