Beyond Boundary Lines

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking over the landscaping in my backyard. The former homeowners designed it, and I was admiring the layout. It was the first time I was conscious of the particular way that boundary lines create order and beauty in a well-cultivated landscape. The observation brought to mind one of my favorite passages: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” – Psalm 16:5,6

For many years, I have found comfort in this passage, especially when met with challenges or circumstances beyond my control. I know that as long as a wise and loving God is behind the design of these things and “holding my lot,” then I (my soul, the essence of who I am) am ultimately safe. Out of my own life experience, I can attest to the absolute wisdom in choosing to rest in God’s sovereignty, as well as the folly of choosing not to. But I have also come to realize that simply knowing intellectually that God is in control is not always enough to satisfy and sustain a heart that is feeling crushed beneath the weight of trials, hardships, and uncertainties, especially the kind that are unrelenting or that persist year after year for many years. I can think of quite a few hardships that affect people I know personally: cancer, chronic illness, physical disability, mental illness, addictions, profoundly broken relationships with loved ones, difficult marriages, long periods of separation among military family members, psyches rendered more fragile and self-protective by traumatic events, the pain of injustices that remain unpunished, etc.

Knowing that God is in control can certainly mitigate fear of things happening at random. It can even give us some degree of confidence that “everything happens for a reason.” But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that more is necessary to quell the torrent of emotions that the heart experiences under the circumstances mentioned above. We can’t just reason or manage away grief, sorrow, pain, anger, fear, anxiety, indignation, humiliation, depression, disappointment, desperation, or hopelessness. We can try. We probably have – with mixed results. But if you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably found yourself vacillating between the extremes of intemperate, narcissistic introspection (which leads to self-pity) and Herculean levels of denial (which produces a hard heart).

In my most recent reflection on Psalm 16:5,6, the Lord brought to my attention something so obvious, I’m surprised I didn’t consciously see it before. King David called the Lord his chosen portion and his cup. This is not the only place in the Bible where a believer speaks of God in this way. Asaph wrote in Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” And the Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” (Lamentations 3:22-24) The words “portion” and “cup” make me think of sharing meals with people. Each person takes and consumes his or her portion of an entrée and a beverage along with it. But what if my portion and my cup – the food off of which I feed – were the Living God Himself – limitless, omnipotent, and complete? Then the divine truth is not merely that God has apportioned my circumstances to me; it is that He Himself has been apportioned to me, and without limits. And in that respect, “indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

Having the Lord as our portion is the only way that we can find comfort and confidence in Providence without having to deny the hardship or pain of our circumstances. It protects us from 2 things: 1) a fatalistic view of God’s sovereignty that obliterates expression of our humanity, whether the expression is one of joy or sorrow, and 2) the neurotic need to demand specific explanations from God about His purposes behind every hardship. It is interesting to note that David first observed that sorrows increase for those who chase after other gods (Psalm 16:4), and that he contrasted those choices with his own: “the Lord is my chosen poprtion and my cup.” Asaph came to regard God as “the strength of [his] heart and [his] portion forever,” but only after expressing a tremendous amount of pain and indignation over how the unjust seemed to prosper while he suffered. And Jeremiah reached his conclusion after a long lament describing his personal afflictions and those of Judah as they experienced God’s judgment through the Babylonian captivity. (Read Psalm 73 and Lamentations 3 in their entirety some time if you want a proper taste of the depths of despair that they reached.)

There is no question that some of us experience hardships in greater measure than others. But regardless of what those hardships are – great or small – they universally cause us to ache and ultimately abandon the things of this world as objects of our hope. It is in our carnal nature to bank our happiness and sense of meaning on the earthly things that God gives us or does on our behalf. We view temporal outcomes as rights that we can demand from Him. Yet all the while, God offers us Himself as our portion and our cup without limits, just as Christ offered Himself completely on the Cross, in order to secure our forgiveness. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Categories: Spiritual Formation

6 replies

  1. Thanks, Judy, for you insightful commentary on living Christianly in a broken world. It reminds me of Job’s travailing and his saying “Though He (the Lord) slay me, I will hope in Him….” Even now we are experiencing the limit of our boundaries in stressful and painful ways but know of the incredible generosity and unbounding love of God as limitless to us. Your friend and co-conspirator in Christ, Ed.

  2. Thanks Judy. I’m glad I rescued you out of my spambox. 🙂

  3. Amen, Judy! How quick I am to seek satisfaction apart from Him. . .when my soul hunger is the impetus to seek Him. . .and to find that He is indeed good. . .Enjoyed seeing you from afar at the study today, but am looking forward to spending time with you at group/girls dinner!Liz C.

  4. Judy, thanks for including me in on this! I found myself tearing up with joy at such wonderful words, written so eloquently, about such real, true, honest things.

  5. I know of several people whose life trials cause them to abandon their faith in God rather than to “to ache and ultimately abandon the things of this world as objects of our hope.”If God truly does not give us anything more than we can handle, then what is the explanation in your mind of those people who have left the faith because of the trials they have had to endure?

  6. Thank you for your question, Minh. It’s an important one. I don’t think that people leave the faith because of the trials they have had to endure. I actually believe that they do so when they experience God in a way that challenges their distorted images of Him; and when faced with the choice to either receive the truth about His character or continue on in their own distorted views, they prefer to keep their idolatrous views. In essence, they say to God, “It’s the highway for you, since you’re not doing it my way.”The internal dialogue springs from hearts that insist on making God in their own image. We all do it, of course. “He should be like X… He should act like X… I will only believe that He is good if He does X… If He brings X into my life, then it means He does not love me.” These underlying beliefs may lie unidentified in times of ease, but they spring to life in times of trial because trials reveal our true belief systems in ways that nothing else does. And although God is sovereign over our trials, He does not “tempt” people into unbelief by giving them more than they can endure. The fountainhead of unbelief rests in the hearts of men. It does not spring from God.At every crossroads, we will either choose God or choose our idols. There is no middle ground, no “third party alternative.” There was a scripture allusion in your question, and I would like to clarify its application. It is from 1 Cor. 10:13 and is specifically about God’s mercy and grace in times of temptation in a believer’s life: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The verse following it is significant and should not be overlooked (v.14): “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” Once again, we see the role that idolatry plays in derailing people. It is idolatry that leads us down the path of temptation to begin with.

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