I’ve always thought of boundaries in relationships as drawing a line to keep unhealthy behavior at bay. You know, such as needed for an abusive spouse or a friend who keeps infringing on your time and space.

So when I got to the “Boundaries and God” chapter in Cloud’s and Townsend’s book Boundaries, I was somewhat startled.

Why in the world would we need boundaries with God?

Turns out my understanding of boundaries still needed some tweaking. After all, boundaries aren’t so much about avoiding unhealthy behavior as they are about respecting each other’s individuality and autonomy. A boundary indicates the limit or extent of an entity, such as a country, property, or person — it indicates where one ends and the other begins. Boundaries allow me the freedom to be me, and you the freedom to be you.

With that understanding of boundaries, we can see why recognizing them is so necessary in relationships. A healthy relationship develops when we recognize what differentiates one person from the other and we choose to love, accept, and respect each other despite our differences. When we give each other the freedom to be ourselves, relationships deepen.

If having proper boundaries in relationships means that I allow you to be you, and you allow me to be me, then having proper boundaries with God means that I allow Him to be God, and He allows me to be me.

What it Means to Allow God to be God

You may be thinking, “What do you mean, allow God to be God? Isn’t He going to be God regardless if I allow Him to be or not?”

Yes, of course. If we could control God, we would be God, not Him.

The problem is that we still try to control Him by putting demands on Him. We demand that He give us what we pray for and then become angry when He doesn’t. We say we want a real relationship with Him, but real relationships respect the other’s choices. When we put demands on God, what we really want is for Him to be our personal genie who grants our wishes. This is not respecting God’s boundaries and His freedom to say “yes” or “no” as He chooses.

When we accept His choices, we not only deepen our relationship with Him, we allow Him to set in motion His purpose for us. We see this in Bible characters who accepted God’s answer to their requests, such as Hannah asking for a child, David begging that his child be healed, and Job who simply wanted answers.

Even Jesus made a request to which God said, “no.” With desperation in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked God to spare Him the suffering He was facing. We can’t begin to fathom the results if God had said “yes” to Jesus’ request, and if Jesus hadn’t accepted God’s “no.” By surrendering to God’s choice, Jesus fulfilled the purpose for which He’d come to earth and provided salvation for us all.

While proper boundaries with God means we accept His choices, our relationship with Him wouldn’t be a true relationship if we couldn’t make our wishes known to Him, and if He weren’t willing to hear and consider them. Scripture tells us to “make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6). We have many examples in the Bible of God hearing and answering individuals’ requests. Hezekiah was especially bold, asking God to add 15 years to his life and to move the sun backwards as a sign that He would. Amazingly, God did both as Hezekiah requested.

But this doesn’t mean God will fulfill all our requests. Healthy boundaries with God means that when we ask Him to consider our wishes, we are willing to accept whatever He decides. When we accept and surrender to His answer, even when it is “no,” our relationship with Him grows in trust.

How God Allows Me to be Me

While it’s true that God is sovereign over all, God also created us as separate entities from Him. He recognizes the boundary that indicates where He ends and we begin by allowing us to make our own choices. He’s a perfect gentleman. Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). He doesn’t break the door down and barge in without our consent. He knocks and asks. Whether we respond or not is totally up to us.

While boundaries mean we are free to do as we please, we aren’t free from the law of sowing and reaping. There are always consequences to any choice we make. Boundaries also mean that we share full responsibility for the consequences of any choice we make.

We’ve probably all heard platitudes such as, “It must not have been God’s will,” or, “It wasn’t meant to be” when things don’t turn out as we planned or anticipated they would. It’s a comforting sentiment. But is it always true?

When the power company turns off my electricity because I neglected to pay the bill, that’s not God’s will at play, it’s my irresponsibility. If I fail to study for exams, my flunking out of college wasn’t “meant to be,” it’s a result of my lack of discipline.

Part of God allowing me to be me is that He allows me to experience the consequences of my choices.

God’s Sovereignty and Our Choices

While boundaries in our relationship with God parallels those in our human relationships, there is one huge difference: God’s sovereignty. Our human relationships are between equals. We don’t have the power to overrule the consequences of the other’s choices. But our relationship with God is different. He is far superior to us. He is deity, while we are mere mortals. He is all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere. We, obviously, are not.

Because God loves us, He exercises His sovereignty on our behalf. He will never overrule our freedom to choose. To do so would be to violate the boundaries that make us individual being. But because of His redemptive nature, He does use His sovereignty to intervene in the consequences of our choices.

This is incredibly good news. It means that even when we make bad choices, God has the final say about the outcome. He not only has the power to overrule the consequences of our actions, He has promised to bring good out of all things for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). This is His amazing redemptive nature at work!

Sometimes, God allows us to experience the consequences of our choices as well as His redemption. Our electric may be turned off. We may flunk out of college. But later we see how God used those events for good in our lives, just as He promised He would. We are still responsible for our choices. Our choices do have consequences. But at the end of the day, our choices — whether good or bad — aren’t the final factor in the outcome. God is!

Boundaries with God Means it’s a Real Relationship

Isn’t it amazing that we have this kind of relationship with Almighty God? As God, He could choose to be a dictator and not give us any freedom to choose. He could force us to serve Him and remove all boundaries that allow us to be unique individuals. But He doesn’t. He wants to be in relationship with you and with me and is willing to forfeit control over our freedom in order to have those relationships.

Our trust in Him deepens as we realize He not only loves us and has given us freedom to make our own choices, but stands ready and willing to forgive us when we make bad choices. The incredible icing on the cake is that He then takes those bad choices and redeems them into good when we turn them over to Him.

Isn’t it amazing that we can this kind of relationship with the God of the universe?