Recently I had tha privilege of visiting Nigeria. It was a wonderful experience that opened my eyes to a world I had never seen. I had a delightful time visiting staff from World Missions and CRWRC and meeting with many of our ministry partners.
As I traveled across the countryside, I was struck by the vast openness of the land. I noticed very few fences or indications of physical boundaries or divisions. And while I am not naive enough to think that such boundaries do not exist in Nigeria, I found the lack of fences refreshing.
Fences are a simple reality in North America. In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost made famous the words, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
There is truth in his words. Boundaries are often necessary for people to live with some sense of security and peace. Good fences assure that our neighbor’s cattle do not damage our crops or that our dog does not destroy our neighbor’s flower garden.
At the same time, by their very nature boundaries separate people from each other. Some boundaries even separate us from God. These barriers are not physical, such as fences and walls; often they are emotional, cultural, linguistic, and even religious.
Reflect for a moment about how our relationship with God has been broken and how sin has become the barrier between us and God. But through the work of Christ, God transcended the boundary of sin and death and re-established his relationship with us. This was no easy task; it necessitated Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.
If God is willing to open the boundary that separates us from him, we also should be working to transcend the boundaries that separate us from each other. In this month’s Church@Work you can read about the translation work that has taken place in Mali. For 16 years translators have been diligently working to transcend a language boundary that kept people from experiencing the grace of God through Christ. Imagine the joy that comes from the completion of such work.
Language is only one barrier to Christ’s love. Another story told in these pages is that of a chaplain touching the lives of men and women whose mental state prevents normal communication and relationships. Again, it is the love of God transcending barriers of brokenness and pain.
As I reflect on the barriers in my own life, I begin to realize how many there are and how seldom I notice them. The fences that separate me from my God and from others are often so mundane that I am unaware they even exist. I think of how my culture—my way of thinking and doing—often prevents God’s passion for the poor and disenfranchised from reaching me. Do I even see them? And if I do see them, do I allow their pain and brokenness to touch me?
How often does my own theology prevent me from truly knowing God? I am struck by how often people have confronted me with words such as, “My God could never be like that.” They then proceed to tell me how they see and understand God.
While I am critical of such thinking, I must confess that at times I find myself fitting God into the box of my own understanding and experience. I suspect we all do. Yet if I am to know God more fully, such theology is another boundary that I must seek to transcend.
There is a part of me that would agree with Robert Frost’s neighbor. Good fences do sometimes make good neighbors. But, for the most part, I hope we will find ways to open gates and step over fences. In transcending boundaries we find relationships of hope and love. In breaking barriers we discover God’s desire to
transform lives and communities around the world.
About the Author
Jerry Dykstra served as the executive director of the Christian
Reformed Church in North America from 2006-2011.