The Freedom of Limitations

On my left hand, I wear the symbol of a choice I made 29 years ago. When I said yes to the union that was forged between my husband and me on that day of satin and lace, I was also saying no to a thousand other things, and this is the nature of choice. By making any choice, I accept the limitations that go with it.

Heroes of the faith like Wycliffe and Bonhoeffer made costly decisions to pursue the will of God even though it clashed (and ultimately collided) with the power structures of their times. More recently, civil rights activists who willed themselves into identity with a minority were prepared to accept the limitations imposed upon them:  ridicule, social censure, jail time, or even death.

In Chapter 3 of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton defines human will or volition as the act of “choosing one course as better than another.” (62) He meanders into the matter of choice in the context of his ongoing disagreements with H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw and their kin, but the alarm and scorn he directs toward their exaltation of the human will seems wildly relevant a hundred years later.

Isak Dinesen described a man (in Out of Africa) who would not “strive toward a happiness or comfort which may be irrelevant to God’s idea of him.” When an individual’s will becomes an end in itself, it becomes an idol. Chesterton referred to this as the “worship of will,” and, apparently his adversaries had overlooked the limitations that come with freedom, for “when you choose anything, you reject everything else.” (63)

Early 20th-century will-worshipers may have purposefully sidestepped the notion that it was God who conceived of freedom of the will for humanity in the first place. When He granted “the dignity of causality” (Pascal’s phrase, not Chesterton’s), this was in keeping with our creation in His glorious likeness. Then, the entire narrative arc of Scripture follows as a record of God’s working His divine will through the exercise of the free will of a rag-tag assortment of men and women who, at times, gave every indication that they had not an inkling of “God’s idea of them.”

If “every act of the will is an act of self-limitation,” (63) this rings true even for the Almighty. God’s sovereign choice to confer upon us the gift of free will set limits around His own freedom:

  • He chose not to coerce;
  • He stoops to ask for our cooperation;
  • He waits for us to participate in the fulfillment of His plans.

Even in the flesh, Jesus worked miracles through acts of human collaboration at His request:  fill up a water pot, extend a hand, distribute a torn up loaf of bread. He despaired over the faithlessness of whole communities and let their unbelief turn the holy spigot of blessing to the off position.

When I’m tempted to lament my own unwise choices or to fear the gift of free will in the hands of the inexperienced young men I love, let me first remember that the claustrophobia of limitation is only a corollary to the glorious freedom that is ours in the first place: We are free to make mistakes and to learn from them, to sin and be forgiven and then to start over.

Second, may I live toward a boldness that, in Chesterton’s words, is able to “choose a path and go down it like a thunderbolt.” (69) This was the way of Christ when He aligned His power of choosing with the Father so that, in maturity of faith, He was able to choose the cross, and in despising the shame, to accept the limitations of that choice without regret.

Thank you all for reading along,

P.S. Linda, my friend and fellow reader in this year of Orthodoxy, has written a great post on Chesterton’s response to this question: “Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?”  Chesterton’s thoughts on self-confidence may be even more relevant today than ever. Click here to enjoy Linda’s summary and her own visceral response to his words.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase any of the books mentioned in this post,simply click on the title here and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you:

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.


Parenting After the Fall

The front-and-center project that’s consuming time and thought these days is a parenting workshop that my husband and I will be teaching in March. Preparation includes reviewing everything we’ve read about parenting in the past couple of years, remembering everything we’ve stumbled upon in the past two decades in the trenches of parenting, discussing all our shared memories of what worked and what-most-certainly-did-not-work, and then trying to wrestle it all into an outline that will carry the content toward a substantive conclusion in a mere 45 minutes.

Without sounding too negative, it has occurred to me more than once in this process that parenting keeps circling back around to the topic of sin management — the parents’ first of all, and then the child’s. Because of the Gospel, we are enabled to “put to death” our own selfishness, laziness, willfulness, impatience, and complacency long enough to assist our delightful offspring in stamping out the same qualities, all with a goal of following together our yearning for obedience to the law of God which has been written on our hearts.

What About Original Sin?

In the providence of words that arrive at just the right time,I found G.K. Chesterton’s theological ponderings on original sin in my reading of Orthodoxy, . Although he and his wife Frances were never able to have children of their own, I hear a latent understanding of kid-nature in this thought:

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”  (27)

Certainly, plenty of evidence has been amassed here in the Morin compound to prove the doctrine of original sin, and in conversations with other parents, I’ve finally realized that we aren’t the only ones with dented sheet rock from illegal indoor-baseball-throwing escapades and memorial corners where naughty chairs were placed on a daily basis.

Whether it’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at work, or whether there’s been an ongoing conversation about original sin, and I’ve just finally tripped over it accidentally, I’m thankful for the moorings in orthodoxy that Chesterton’s writing provides. He laments a “fastidious spirituality” among his contemporaries who “admit divine sinlessness, which they [could] not see even in their dreams. But they essentially den[ied] human sin, which they [could] see in the street.”

For my money, Chesterton’s strongest argument for humanity’s fallenness has more to do with virtue than with vice:

“The vices are, indeed, let lose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity . . .is often untruthful.” (49)

The Tyranny of Wandering Virtues

Parents of adult children, beware the tyranny of free-wheeling virtues when your children begin to make poor choices. We are a generation of parents who will change our ethics to avoid offending our adult children, thinking that this enables us to empathize more fully with their moral floundering. When we value our relationship with our children over our children’s relationship with God, we circumvent the convicting work of the Spirit in their hearts.

And since our politics will follow our ethics, in an article in World Magazine called “Political Pelagianism,” Marvin Olasky references the optimism of policy makers on both sides of the aisle with Democrats assuming only the best of motives and intentions in those who benefit from government programs and Republicans tending to “glamorize the noble CEO.” With no allowances made for selfishness, greed, or opportunistic impulses, can we really view the world (and make laws?) with wisdom?

The Plight of Sinners Parenting Sinners

Tracing this topic back to its origin on a bad day in a certain garden, it’s not difficult to diagnose my most pressing parenting dilemmas. The challenge to live with a submitted will and to accept God’s “hands off” when He puts boundaries around something that “looks perfectly good to me” was the root of the first sin and all subsequent sins. Making an idol of my freedom and control mirrors the very same manifestation of original sin that I confront in my grandson when I refuse to honor his temper tantrums.

Sally Lloyd-Jones takes me back to the garden in plain speech with her description of God’s motive behind the Garden’s one rule:  “If you eat the fruit, you’ll think you know everything. You’ll stop trusting me.” And, of course, God was accurate in His prediction, for humanity has spent every spare moment since then trying to “make ourselves happy without Him.”

Chesterton frames the idolatry behind original sin along with our misdirected quest for happiness:

” How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it . . .” (36)

And this:

“. . . if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small.”

Yes, and amen. And this would seem to be a worthy goal of missional parenting — and of living our days in this following life.

Parenting After the Fall

Some of you have said that you’re laughing out loud at certain Chesterton-isms, and everyone confesses to the challenge of his writing. I hope you’ll share in the comments below some of the quotes you’re especially amused or flummoxed by, and if you happen to have a blog post bubble to the surface as a result of your reading, feel free to share a link to it in the comments. It will be fun to continue this conversation over at your place.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Image by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

The Humility of Being Right

There’s a peculiar satisfaction that comes with being right. Given the opportunity, we’ll make an idol of it and even run roughshod over those we claim to love in order to win an argument, thereby trading peace for the honor of clutching the blue ribbon of rightness close to our hearts. Often what’s at stake is nothing more than a piece of trivia or a detail of shared history:  In what year did we shingle the roof? How old was Uncle Dave when he passed away? Is the truck due for an oil change?

The sandpaper words, “You were right,” turned inside-out become “I was wrong,” and this is music to the ears of the triumphant, but I would argue that when it comes to deep Truth about God and humanity and the deep rift, there should be a humility that accompanies our rightness, a meekness that conveys our understanding that we have been entrusted with a great treasure.

G.K. Chesterton lived and wrote in the early years of the 20th century, crossing verbal swords with materialist and modernist heavy weights the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Sigmund Freud in lecture hall arguments for the existence of God and the truth of the incarnation. What characterized Chesterton’s approach and filled the seats with spectators was his light touch, his sense of humor, and his refusal to take himself too seriously.

His well known Orthodoxy was written as a more positive follow-up to his lesser-known Heretics and as an opportunity for him to clarify the set of truths that he had come to believe. Of these beliefs, Chesterton is clear:

“I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” (19)

In his efforts to assemble a creed, Chesterton spent years trying to be “original,” trying to “found a heresy of [his] own, and when [he] had put the last touches to it, [he] discovered that it was orthodoxy.” (23)

And so those of us who cling to and defend objective truth must also realize that we have received something that is not our own. Bending my knee to the content of revelation, I am startled to realize that the point of orthodoxy, the reason for a studied cherishing of rightness in my understanding of God, is not for the purpose of winning arguments, or for the satisfaction of belonging to the right camp, or for the establishment of my resume. Orthodoxy that is not purely for the glory of God can quickly become dead orthodoxy, knowledge for it’s own sake and a safe box for the storage and containment of God.

G.K.Chesterton argues for an orthodoxy that welcomes imagination. He viewed the world through eyes that saw “the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.” When we open our Bibles and read the comforting psalms and the familiar gospel stories, we are also being confronted by the God of Ezekiel’s spinning wheels and the embodiment of some of the more frightening creatures in John’s Revelation. The challenge is a paradox of wonder and welcome, or, as Chesterton put it, “we need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”

For the believer in Jesus Christ, orthodoxy is a condition of having discovered a truth that makes us and defines us. In humility, we come to understand that this Truth is not our own, but, rather, we belong to the Truth.


This is the beginning of a journey through Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. If you’re following along, let me know in the comments below, and be sure to share any insights you glean along the way. If those insights happen to take the form of a blog post, a link is welcome so we can continue this conversation at your place.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.