Carl Trueman wrote an excellent article for the July 2012 issue of Tabletalk magazine entitled “Why Do We Draw the Line?” Trueman starts the article by highlighting the recent trend toward “uniting around the center”–focusing on the doctrines and beliefs around which believers agree rather than highlighting the areas of disagreement. Trueman states–correctly, I would have to say–“Frequently, those who talk of the center as all-important contrast themselves favorably with those they see as emphasizing boundaries.” But then that is culture we love in; Trueman continues, “…evangelical talk of centers rather than boundaries has a lot to commend it. To make the point concisely: it is consonant with both the desire of Christians for unity and the cultural, political and psychological aesthetics of our time.”
The remainder of the article, though, is spent explaining why boundaries are indeed important. Trueman mentions that the “world at large” seems usually to consider boundaries as “something to be transgressed, and that continuously.” Trueman explains that the boundaries God has given in His Word, though, are put in place not to stifle or restrict us, not to quash our fun, but to “enable us to be truly human.” Boundaries from the Lord serve the same function as boundaries from state to citizen, from parent to child–to protect. Parents do not allow their children to run out into traffic, despite the fact that prohibiting them from doing so is a boundary, because the potential consequences are lethal. States do not allow citizens to shout “Fire!” in crowded theaters or to shoot guns in populated areas, because the potential consequences are dangerous. Similarly, God has given each human being a free will, and we have the ability to choose to do whatever we want. But God has instituted boundaries to protect us from the potential dangers that we likely would not consider before plunging into whatever seems like fun or seems the best thing to do at the time. Using the “hedonism of Hugh Hefner” as example, Trueman writes that “…one cannot simply cross a boundary and then stop: that merely establishes a new boundary, which others will transgress in more radical and extreme ways.”
Trueman also argues–again, rightly–that boundaries can in fact liberate. The “exclusion from wider society of serial killers and pedophiles” is not “bad or oppressive” he writes; on the contrary, there is greater freedom for all by knowing that those individuals (at least once they are known) will be prohibited from being inside the boundaries of “regular society.”
Numerous studies have shown that children actually thrive when boundaries are present, contrary though that may be to what most people would claim to expect. For example, children who are inside an enclosed playground area are likely to run around and play freely throughout the entire enclosed area, whereas children on a playground without boundaries (such as a fence) tend to stick closer to each other and to the playground equipment. Why? Because the fence–the boundary–provides a sense of safety and security that is unknown where there is no fence.
That is, after all, why boundaries exist–to help us know where we are safe and where we would be in danger. Boundaries, when observed, prevent all manner of possible injury and heartbreak. Ravi Zacharias writes wisely about the benefits of boundaries in marriage in his book I, Isaac, Take Thee Rebekah: “Lines must be drawn not at the level of acting but at the level of thinking. Lines must be drawn not at the level of doing but at the level of desiring. Lines must be drawn not at the level of contact but at the level of sight.” Zacharias recognizes what so many of us prefer to ignore–that is we do not allow ourselves to think about getting inappropriately involved with another, there is almost no chance that we will actually do so. If we do not look lustfully or longingly at another, there is very little likelihood that we will get involved in inappropriate contact. Without the boundaries in place we might still know where the edge is, but our human tendency is to delight in getting as close as we can to the edge, boasting in our ability to hang precariously over the edge without plummeting. The problem is, when we spend so much time hanging over the edge almost anything could cause us to fall–and when we fall over the edge it will be too late. Boundaries serve to keep us a safe distance from the edge so that even if we do fall, we fall within the boundaries–we fall somewhere where we are still safe.
Trueman also highlights another aspect of the boundaries discussion which is very often overlooked or ignored: “[C]enters and boundaries are ultimately dependent on each other–one cannot meaningfully talk of one without assuming the existence of the other. In a circle, the central point is a function of the perimeter. I know where the center is only when I see the circle as a whole and judge its location on the basis of the circumference.” Discussion of abandoning boundaries then, or of allowing each person to decide his or her own boundaries, is to deny the existence of a center…something surely no believer would ever claim to want to do.
Let us beware, then, to appreciate the boundaries rather than seek ways to expand, stretch, avoid, circumvent or remove them. God has placed them there because He loves us, and there is nothing beyond the boundaries that we need.