Good fences make good neighbors

Good fences make good neighbors.”  It’s an old maxim which expresses the intuition that good relationships require strong personal boundaries, clear lines of who is responsible for what.  I believe this flows neatly from the nature of God—the differentiated intimacy shared by Father, Son and Spirit.  Because of this, I believe a properly Trinitarian theology must challenge the way “Grace” is sometimes preached—as a Gospel-of-Mushy-Boundaries.

It goes something like this:  God has declared certain boundaries (rules) to guide human behavior, and the consequence for crossing those boundaries is death (including a one-way post-mortem trip to Hell).  But Jesus, by going to the cross, has shielded us (or at least those of us who hold to the right beliefs) from the consequences of our bad choices.  In other words, it’s the “good news” that God doesn’t take his boundaries seriously, at least not in any way that significantly affects us.

No wonder we’re so messed up!  Because this vision of God affects more than just our theology.  It teaches us that to love is to surrender boundaries, to take responsibility for others’ lives, and to shield them from the consequences of their decisions:

  • “My wife drank too much last night and is now passed-out on the couch, but I love her unconditionally, so I will call her office and tell them she’s sick this morning.”
  • “My husband beats me, but I love him unconditionally, so I will put make-up over the bruises so no one will find out.”

Codependent theology results in neurotic (and mutually injurious) relationships disguised as love.

Now, as a Trinitarian remedy to the above, here’s how I think it really works:

The Trinity made the choice to create me and adopt me, and is now experiencing the consequences of that choice.  If you have ever chosen to love someone who has problems, then you have an idea of how much pain can result from such a choice.  In God’s case, the choice to be with me required that He join me in Hell, but He seems to think the pain is worth it.  It’s His decision to make, and that’s what matters.  God’s choice in this matter is what forms the context in which I make my own choices, with the properly human freedom I possess in Christ.

Now, I can’t choose to be hated by God any more than I can choose what family I was born into.  I can’t make any choice that will cause him ever treat me with anything other than a Father’s kindness.  But I am free to choose to believe in a hateful god.  I am free to experience the pain and alienation that comes from such a belief.  I am free to engage in the anti-social behaviors that naturally spring from those feelings.  And I am free to experience the increased levels of pain that result from such behaviors.  This freedom (and the pain I am capable of inflicting on myself) continues post-mortem, but it would be a great act of un-love if God were to rob me of the consequences of my bad decisions.  How else can a person learn to make better decisions?

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