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)