First Larne Presbyterian Church

First Larne Presbyterian Church

The Gift of Limitations: a comment on "Limitless" - astronaut Tim Peake's new book


British astronaut Tim Peake has got a new book out. Limitless is the autobiography of his life as a soldier, pilot, parent, and astronaut.

Stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things provide welcome flashes of good news in these stressful times. They lift our gaze from the reality of restrictions to the promise of possibilities. And they offer hope that our current circumstances don’t have to be our whole story: if we work hard, take the opportunities that come our way, and refuse to listen to those who try to hold us back, we can achieve whatever we want.

This all sounds exciting, encouraging, and empowering. But it also sounds exhausting. While handing you the power to achieve your destiny, it simultaneously hands you the responsibility for it. If you fail, there’s no one to blame but yourself. If you’re one of the 7,999 applicants who didn’t get picked for the space programme, you clearly weren’t trying hard enough.

And this doesn’t just affect the literal and metaphorical ‘high flyers’. It affects all those who aren’t top of the class, who don’t get promoted, whose lockdown home-schooling attempts were a cosmic failure. If every area of life is a meritocracy, the pressure to succeed is itself limitless. In the launch event for his book, broadcast from the Science Museum last week, Tim Peake was asked about some of the challenges of returning to earth, and said one of them was having people immediately asking him ‘What’s next?’ No achievement ever seems to be enough.

What if the truth is something different? What if our limitations are a gift, not a curse? As Jen Wilkin points out in her book None Like Him, only God is infinite and all-powerful. He has put limits on what we are able to do, and on what we are authorised to do, and these are for our benefit. If we were truly capable of achieving everything we set our minds to, we would have no need of other people and no need of God. To be self-sufficient is to be lonely. To be all powerful is to risk arrogance.

The possibilities and choices we in the West are offered every day – even in lockdown – are almost limitless. Instead of worshipping the false gods of options, power, and self-fulfillment, let’s choose instead to recognise our limitations, thank God for them, and praise him. For he alone is limitless.

Jennie Pollock is a writer and editor who lives, works, and worships in central London. Her first book, If Only: Finding Joyful Contentment in the Face of Lack and Longing, is out on 1 November.