A Door No Man Could Open

Sealed Shut by Grace
My Lord has much better for me than the thing behind the door that He  just slammed in my face. I certainly don’t have the sense or the confidence to believe it as confidently as I should, but I know that God is using all things for my good, because He’s given me the Spirit of Christ.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Have you ever been in a situation where things wouldn’t budge? Sure it’s disappointing, but most people find alternative routes. “When one door closes another opens” is one of the most popular adages of our time. (Either that or “When God closes a door He opens a window.”)

Minus the reductionistic nature of the quote, this may describe your normal experience. By default, we troubleshoot through our setbacks. Christians, whether they face very difficult situations or not,  pray to the LORD for His help. It is the blessing of our gracious LORD that people are able to hold down a stable job, that husbands and wives stay married, that children continue in the way of their parents, granted their parents have trained them in the wisdom and grace of God. Sometimes we are forgetful of these regularities. However, just because we forget, doesn’t mean that Christ isn’t continually sustaining all things by the Word of his Power.  (Heb 1:3; Col 1:17) Our Lord and Savior  is speaking to us, and the order of things visible and invisible are His words. The Scriptures are the glasses enabling us to see these things. (Matt 7:24) God isn’t going to build anything else. And if He doesn’t build, then we’re all wasting our time because it isn’t going to happen. (Psalm 127:1)  We just need the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, yet another gift from God. (Prov 20:12)

What about the doors that are sealed shut? What happens when the window, which was the alternative,  is barred over? What happens when the routes you may have otherwise taken, are unavailable to you? Many may call this  “The Twilight Zone”, though I’m sure there are many others who call it home.  Job, Jonah, and Jeremiah once did.

It was God’s pleasure to glorify Himself through the suffering of these men, even in Jonah’s case, when he reacted as many of us would today. In the land of opportunity, we believe too quickly that our lots will be similarly wonderful. If everything is operating accordingly, we will all have good careers, wonderful marriages,  and “the pie in the sky, by-the-by” . I too quickly believe these things and God sanctifies me by acquainting me with all of my weaknesses.

God will purify His children from their iniquities (Zech 13:9) , He will give us peace and hope if we ask for it, (Romans 15:13; Phil 4:6-7)  but we will all suffer in Christ. (Romans 8:17; Phil 1:29) Each of us are given a special measure, according to the grace of God. (Eph 4:7; 2 Cor 10:13, 1 Cor 7:17, Romans 12:3) These are all general truths. It is the particularities that often cause me to stumble.

Providence: The Points and Planes of Suffering

It is often difficult for me to place my own “point” of suffering on the “plane” of genuine Christian experience. But I believe Christ’s invitation is open to the weary, even when their weariness is cause by their own doing.

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!” (Isaiah 30:1-2)

We run to Egypt, to gather the things God hasn’t given us, and wonder why we are wearied and enslaved by our own devices. But “Gracious” and “Merciful” is God’s covenant name (Exodus 34:6);

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.”  (Isaiah 30:18)

The Dark Night of the Soul
Even more confusing is knowing that there are many occasions when my suffering is not connected to any sin of mine at all. It’s just there. I know that many illnesses and traumatic events can cause mental suffering. However what happens when you don’t have anything external to point to, when asked why you can’t get moving like everyone else?

“He has besieged and enveloped me
    with bitterness and tribulation;
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.” (Lam 3:5,7-9)

This description certainly matches the experience of depression and anxiety, unintended or not. It puts the DSM-5 to shame in that respect.

Talk about a real theological diagnosis of the inner turmoil of depression : “Patient seems to have been besieged and enveloped by God, causing symptoms of weariness with life, near unexplainable sorrow, and internal turmoil that interferes with daily life and interpersonal relationships.”

Well Meaning Friends with Useless Advice

Then there is the real possibility that those closest to you will not understand. Even when they try to, you are causing tension and stress when you voice your experience. God has made us finite, and we must realize that it is a blessing to be unable to completely understand ourselves and the people around us. We must also realize that God gives us the ability to share truth and offer help and comfort even though we don’t fully understand. Then there other times when we are tempted to offer something else. Like, advice.

Advice can be really helpful. However just because advice is helpful, doesn’t mean we should share it in every situation. Advice does not always universally apply. Using a fork to eat my green beans doesn’t mean it will be just as helpful using a fork to remove toast from the toaster. Swimming is always good exercise, but that doesn’t mean I should go swimming during a thunderstorm. “Okay this is getting a little ridiculous” you may say, and you’re right. However, good advice can be ridiculous sometimes. Being “slow to speak” is something we should all practice.

Think of Job’s three friends:

(1)  Eliphaz, acknowledges that Job has been a source of strength to others (Job 4:3-4). But then he turns and puts the blame for Job’s suffering squarely on Job himself. “Think now,” he says, “who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8)

(2) Bildad, says much the same. “See, God will not reject a blameless person nor take the hand of evildoers” (Job 8:20)

(3)  Zophar, repeats the refrain. “If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, do not let wickedness reside in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure, and will not fear.…Your life will be brighter than the noonday” (Job 11:14-15, 17).

“Their reasoning is a syllogism. God sends calamities upon wicked people only. You have suffered a calamity. Therefore you must be wicked. Job himself avoids this false syllogism.”  (source)

It may be that this is a hidden premise in our own hearts (it certainly is for me), and so we pray that God will continually remind us of His mercy. Christ invites us to take on His yoke. He is the suffering servant, and the only mediator between God and man. He is able to sympathize with our suffering, and is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters (Heb 2:11,17; Heb 4:15). This doesn’t remove suffering, but it certainly is a relief to remember that suffering isn’t without purpose.

God raised Jesus from the dead, and the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me (Romans 8:11) God takes delight in delivering His children. (Zeph 3:17) I need to be reminded of this when I’m stuck. Maybe we could all use this reminder

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

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In Transit: The Grace of Groaning

from-darkness-to-light-anil-nene

 

“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” (Gen 15:12)

“The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” (Ex 20:21) 

In the Christian experience, we will all inevitably come to a time in which we realize that something is off.  This experience will differ from believer to believer; because of factors such as personality, gifts, and geographical setting.

In some cases it will appear to originate externally, or in the things that go on around us. Like a splash in time, which ripples out and effects those who are around. Whether it be bankruptcy, the loss of a job, bereavement, divorce, breakup, a falling out between friends. Someone sinned against you, or you sinned against them. These are all examples of things that happen externally

For many (if not all), it is internal. When you’re on the end of your rope. It could have originated from an externality, causing you to stop and think about it, and examine yourself, and your relationship with the LORD. However, sometimes it isn’t that simple. You feel that something is off, and you experience some sort of inner turmoil, but you just can’t put your finger on it.

You examine yourself rigorously, because you understand Scripture commands you to do so, in Christ, so that you will know where to ask Him for help, and guidance. However your prayers don’t seem to “break the ceiling”. Your heart is broken. Formerly you played the part of the victim. You pointed your finger at someone else. However, you know that the kind of warfare isn’t simply flesh and blood. You also know that although you are in Christ, that you possess a sinful nature. You know that when the Spirit cleansed you with the Redemption that Christ purchased on your behalf, He weakened sin’s dominion over you, so that you are no longer ruled in it. You also recognize that there is a remnant of sin that remains in you, which still leaves you capable of committing sins.

At that point it must be realized that our lives are transitory. We’re here, but we aren’t. We want to be here, but we don’t.

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (1 Cor 5:2-3)

It’s normal to groan for God in our weaknesses. Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and His ascent accomplished for us the gift of groaning for the sins that placed us at war with Him. We grow by groaning those sins against Him and our neighbor.

“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” ( 2 Cor 5:4) 

We are in the tent, and our groaning isn’t (or shouldn’t) be for God to simply take our bodies away, so that we would all float up to God without them. But our hope is that through our  suffering and groaning , we participate in His dwelling in us by His Spirit.

To be in Christ, to be sanctified in His Word  and to know our suffering and groaning, is to know Christ.

To Know Christ, is to be sanctified in His Word  and to know our suffering and groaning.

Our own groaning over our  sin and suffering,  is His sympathetic groaning over our sin and suffering. For instance, when it is said by the LORD  in Exodus 3:7 that He  “know[s] their sufferings,”, it isn’t said from a distance (or to simply make a statement about his omniscience, because He does indeed know everything) . His knowledge of their sufferings indicated an identity with them. An intimate knowing, implying something much more personal than the way Adam knew Eve.

Our clothing, is our glorified bodies. Another way of putting it; Our bodies, glorified. Christ was the first fruits of the heavenly harvest. God raised Him from the dead in a glorified body by the activity of the Spirit.  (Rom 8:11) Christ is the seed that died, so that His death  may bring about the fruit of the full harvest (John 12:24)

To groan is to grow, to be burdened  is to begin life eternal. For this reason we have hope and confidence, even though now it may seem quenched by your sin and/or the effects of sin (there isn’t always a one to one correlation between sin and suffering. It is more complex, and the sting has many barbs). The opposing principle, our indwelling sin, and the death that it brings with be swallowed up in our deaths, but our mortality will be swallowed up by the resurrection of our glorified bodies.

Our confidence is objective, but it has a subjective feature, that is more powerful and more deep than our groaning. In fact, it is the very reason why we can groan over sin, and desire to have it put to death;

“He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Cor 5:5)

The Spirit applies what Christ accomplished. This application of redemption comes by the  indwelling of The Spirit of Christ. Christ went away to baptize us with the Spirit. The Spirit is the “fire”.