Limits Are Good: A Review of ‘You’re Only Human’ by Kelly Kapic

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Do you ever worry that you are not enough? Do you ever feel guilty about not getting through your to-do list? Not taking care of your body like you should? Not interacting with your family like you should? Me too. And so has Kelly Kapic, the author of You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News (Brazos Press, 2022). Kapic brings a pastoral tone to the complex topic of what it means to be human. For Kapic, a primary part of being human is to be limited.

In part one, Kapic discusses the limits of human nature and how those limits are good. In fact, the most common theme repeated throughout the book is that finitude is a good gift. Recognizing that good gift produces good results. “Once we see ourselves within this framework, where our creaturely finitude plays a good and essential part, the pressures to fulfill endless expectations take on a different appearance,” Kapic explains. “We begin to relate to God and others in a more fruitful way… We do not apologize for our creaturely needs and dependence on others, for we discover this is how God made us, and it is good,” (15).

To be human is to be a creature. To be a creature is to be dependent.

Throughout his work, Kapic notes again and again that our dependency is not a deficiency, but a gift. “We must learn the value and truthfulness of our finitude, eventually getting to the point where we might even praise God for our limits,” he writes. “We need to see the difference between the gift of finitude (i.e., human limits) and the lamentable reality of sin and misery” (11). Part of the difficulty in seeing this difference is a misconception that Kapic aims to correct, the idea that human beings should be seen first and foremost as sinful. He says, “Some traditions, like my own, place so much emphasis on our identity as ‘sinners’ that we leave no room for our deeper identity as the ones whom God designed in his own image to experience life in fellowship, or to experience his original delight in us ourselves” (22).

Kapic teaches that when our humanity is grounded in sin, all kinds of distortions emerge. For instance, if humanity is grounded in sin, what does that mean for the Son of God, who took on human nature? Or, what does it say about the Holy Spirit “who comes to dwell in sinners in order that they might be saints” (24)? Rather than sinfulness, our humanity needs to be grounded in creatureliness and the image of God. By the very nature of our creatureliness, we are finite. Therefore, finitude is not sinful, but one of the aspects of creation that God calls good. That is good news for all of us.

The second part of You’re Only Human discusses the effects of our limits and the need for healthy community that supports our finitude. A key theme of this section is time. Kapic has a particularly interesting discussion on how our relationship to time changed once clocks became a normal possession for an ordinary person. The advent of technology that helps us to measure and even thwart time (like electric lights), frequently erodes boundaries that would have allowed us more rest. In fact, most technologies that are supposed to save us time, end up being more of a burden, because they raise the standards of what we expect from our time. Kapic uses the example of the modern washer and dryer. Though they save us from spending a whole day doing laundry, rather than use that saved time for other things, we have simply raised our standards. Since laundry is so quick, we can own more clothes and wash them more frequently.

Kapic, in this section, notes how God took his time in creating the world. According to Genesis, he took a whole six days! The infinite creator could have made everything with a figurative snap of his fingers. Yet, he actually made mankind in multiple steps, creating first the dust and then the man from the dust. In the same way, God shapes his people over time. Even Jesus spent 30 years growing as a normal human before beginning his public ministry. By focusing on process, Kapic invites us to recognize that perfection is not the goal of the Christian life, nor is it merely about programs that help us to be more dutiful in our religious exercises. Rather, he says, “Christianity’s goal or telos has always been to grow in love and communion with God, our neighbors, and the rest of his creation” (156).

This book is wildly important in a social media age when it seems like everyone has it all together. The reality is that everyone needs help. As human beings, we are designed for dependence on God and others. Kapic makes a unique contribution by tying this idea of dependence to the very definition of humanity. To be human is to be a creature. To be a creature is to be dependent. The idea that we can do all the things that need to be done on our own even in simply caring for ourselves runs contrary to what the Bible teaches about what human beings truly are.

There are a few places that I would have liked to see more discussion, such as the section where he talks about why we find murder so horrendous. I think left as is, it would be easy to conclude that those who commit murder do not bear the image of God, but I do not think Kapic intends such. I also would have liked to see more discussion on why we feel the need to cover five empty minutes by playing games on our phones, but this may have taken us too far afield. Overall, the book does a thorough job in discussing the topic at hand.

For myself, Kapic’s book has helped me to recognize that the finitude that prevents me from being able to hold down a full-time job, complete a rigorous academic program, serve my church, and take care of normal life things is not a bug, but a feature. I was made to need help. Becoming a good person, a good scholar, a good disciple takes time and a village.

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Jordan Parris

Jordan Parris received a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2019 and is currently pursuing a Master of Theology with an emphasis in Philosophy. Originally from South Carolina, Jordan moved to Wake Forest to study at Southeastern after spending two years on the field with the IMB. She now serves as the office coordinator for the office of PhD studies and is a member of Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, NC. When not thinking about abstract philosophical concepts, she likes to play video games, make things with her hands, solve puzzles, play team sports, and read copious amounts of fiction.

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