There are many ways in which we as humans try to limit God, to place Him in a box so that we can understand Him better. We say as Moses did, for example, that we are unable to perform the tasks He calls us to, due to one weakness or another. Just like Moses, we must be reminded that He who creates us can change us, that He can and will make us capable of things we had not dreamed possible, if only we let him.
Or, perhaps we limit God in what we do and do not ask of him. Rather than asking boldly, believing even in the asking that what we ask (if He wills it) will be done, we ask for what we think we ought to, and less than we desire: for a bit of comfort, or for help with an exam. Here, the prayer given by Christ is a helpful corrective, as we learn not only to ask for our needs, but that we are asking a good Father, who desires to and delights in giving us good things, and in forgiving our sins.
Perhaps the most common limitation we put on God, though, is born out of misguided attempts to reckon with our sins. So often, we treat our sin as though it is more powerful than God, believing that our actions are capable of preventing God from working on and in us.
We see this in the individual who struggles with, for example, drunkenness, or anger, or (especially common) pornography or other sins against chastity. We see our friend fall into one of these sins, whichever they may struggle with, and immediately believe themselves to be at absolute square-zero with God. They believe that by their actions they have made it impossible for God to work in them.
Now, on paper, this sounds absurd. After all, you just read the words “impossible for God”. Nevertheless, this is a real problem many people, especially our brothers and sisters with besetting sins, encounter regularly. We look at ourselves and say God cannot, or does not want us, until we can become clean and presentable to Him again.
Now, this type of thinking reveals two lies, which we’ll deal with one at a time.
The first lie is about us: We seem to think that because we got ourselves into this mess, we have to get ourselves out. We separated ourselves from God, so we have to get back to him, especially through the sacrament of Confession. While it’s true that we need and should take advantage of that sacrament regularly (more on this in a moment), it’s fundamentally untrue that we are doing much to make it “work”, to put ourselves back in a state of grace, beyond simply showing up. This leads into the second lie.
The second lie is about God: We believe that he abandons us to our sin. If one examines the path from sin to confession and communion, we can quickly see that this is not true. The sign of God’s continued pursuit of us in our sin is our stricken conscience. This is a gift from Him, and as with all gifts, we are meant to return them to Him. The psalms tell us that God will not reject a contrite heart, and we can trust that this is because He gave it to us, just as he sent His Son “while we were yet sinners”. As we act on this contrite heart, we go to the sacrament of Confession, which He provided for us knowing that we would need it. It's absurd to think that God gave us this beautiful sacrament with the intent that we would never have to use it. He knew we would fail, and so he gives us the gift of priests to hear confessions and absolve us of our sins.
So how do we live without limiting God in this way? I think there are two excellent steps we can take. First, when we find ourselves in need of confession, and tempted to despair in our sin, we can and should ask God for a contrite heart. This is a prayer He loves to answer, and He has never failed to do so for me. Second, and most importantly: Go to Confession! The best way to learn the healing power of God, how expansive and overwhelming He is in His love for you, is to experience it firsthand. Come, give Him all your burdens, and listen as He takes them from you.
Andy Brandt is a Staff Editor, Producer, and General Ne’er-do-well at Konza Catholic. You can find his writing on Catholicism, Justice, and Politics here.