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)

Gungor’s Reckoning: There is No Box (and other metaphysical myths told by fundies!)

Recently, many individuals in the evangelical community have been disappointed once again, but this time by a talented band that represented all things Christian. Websites reported Gungor saying “I lost my metaphysic” and that they lost their belief in  “[s]tories that we lived by, defined ourselves with, but can no longer believe in.”

The article continues;

Why? Not because my life looks like Jesus or doesn’t look like Jesus. But because of my lack of ability to nail down all the words and concepts of what I exactly BELIEVE.” Then he nails down exactly what he doesn’t believe—in Adam and Eve or the Flood. He has “no more ability to believe in these things then I do to believe in Santa Claus.”

Two words that Gungor used to identify this “epiphany”: Apophatic Mysticism.

I was saddened after reading all of this a few days ago, though it wasn’t exactly surprising. As a fan of Gungor’s work (especially “Beautiful Things”) I listened to his music, and knew the lyrics pretty well. He did a great job expressing his thoughts on biblical truth. I found myself saying “amen” to the dimensions of biblical truth he sang of, with the musical composition and skill with that of a genius. There were, however,  a couple of lyrics in “Cannot Keep You”  that always irritated me. I know that many are not as concerned as I am about precision when speaking of God and His Self-revelation to us. I also know that my zeal for precision can also be a vice, turning me into an arrogant jerk.

Despite my failing, scripture is still adamant about “a form of sound words”. Paul, under The Holy Spirit’s direction and breathing, wrote to Timothy, who was the closest thing he had to a son;  “Hold fast the form of sound words, that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”  ( 2 Timothy 2:13-14).

These “sound words” are treasured by Paul. His life had been a testimony of  his treasury of scripture, and with his life coming to an end, he instructed Timothy, as Timothy had been since he was a child, to treasure all of Scripture as God’s Speech, concerning the covenant he made with man in Christ.

God’s purposes from all eternity, and all of his actions from beginning to end  were made clear, and were revealed in our precious Savior Jesus Christ. He abolished death. He brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Tim 2:10)

It was because of this, and to this  that Paul was appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher. And it was for this reason that he rejoiced in suffering for it. “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Tim 2:11-12)

There is no room for me, or anyone else (especially me) to be apathetic about this mystery that has been revealed. God becoming known to us, by His own choosing. Not only that, but He was made like us in every way, yet without sin.

Scripture is  God-breathed. The Character of Scripture is authoritative because it is God in which it originates. How convenient it is for we who are skeptical, or who have reservations, or are embarrassed by a Holy God to say “well man was involved with writing scripture, so it isn’t going to be perfect”. There are many problems with this kind of sophistry, besides being a lousy methodology, and I do not intend to touch on it here.

The verse that was of concern in “Cannot Keep You” say;

“we cannot keep you in a church
we cannot keep you in a Bible
or it’s just another idol to box you in”

The first line of this verse is okay. We know of God’s transcendence, that His essence is not constrained to one place at a time. He is Self-occupying, before there was anything to be occupied, He was, and still is today and for all eternally I AM.

But it is also said that God walked in the garden (Gen 3:8). Does Gungor believe that to be true or false? Is it literal (however he is using this word, literal is a confusing word to use given that it could mean the original intention of the author, or referring to a wooden, prima facie, sort of literalism)

It is also said that God met with Moses on Mount Sinai, by His own choosing, in the form of an unburning bush (Ex 3:1-22). The unburning bush was a sign of God’s transcendence, but His free decision to dwell with Israel, not consuming them as if He needed them, but covenanting with and caring  for them nonetheless.  Does Gungor believe this is true or false? Did we put God in a box? Did God put Himself in a bush?

This kind of phraseology is ambiguous at best, and intentionally deceptive at worst. I understand that there is a desire to keep anyone from putting words in God’s mouth. However, saying “You can’t put God in a box” can just as easily be used to backdoor false teaching. Think about the line above;

“We cannot keep you in a bible or it’s just another idol to box you in”

One of the most problematic things about this reasoning, is the hypocritical nature of it. Whether it was intended by Gungor this way or not. The subtle hypocrisy can be exposed by asking this question;

“Oh yeah? Says who?”

Think about it. Who defines idolatry?

If you said “God” you are correct. If you said YHWH, then you get an added bonus of 100 points for being more specific.

Next question. Where do we get the definition of idolatry?

Is it from Scripture? Or is it a pious agnosticism that uses a lot of words to communicate not much of anything?

Think about it until the follow up

He is both a Fountain and a Light

On earth, a fountain is one thing, light another. When you are thirsty, you look for a fountain, and to get to the fountain you look for light; and if there is no daylight, you light a lamp to get to the fountain. But He is both a fountain and a light: to the thirsty he is a fountain, to the blind a light. Let [your] eyes be opened to see the light; let the lips of [your] heart be opened to drink of the fountain. That which you drink, you see and hear. God becomes everything to you, for He is the whole of the things you love. If you attend to visible things, well, God is neither bread nor is He water, nor light, nor a garment, nor a house. For all these things are visible, individual, and separate. What bread is, water is not; what a garment is, a house is not; and what these things are, God is not, for they are visible things. God is all of these things to you: if you are hungry, he is bread to you; if you are thirsty, He is water to you; if you live in darkness, he is light to you, for he remains incorruptible. If you are naked, He is a garment of immortality to you when this corruptible shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality.

– Augustine, Lectures on the Gospel of John, tract. 13.5 (on John 3:22-29)