“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this over the years, but it’s a big number. This saying permeates our culture, and to be honest, it seems great. However, with some nuance, we will come to see that there is some truth to it, but please notice the emphasis of some.
We tend to offer this saying to others when we hear that they’re disappointed or in pain. Maybe they didn’t get that house, or job, they wanted, or maybe that nagging illness just won’t get better. Regardless of the specific situation, this saying tends to fall out of our mouths with a comforting authority that makes it feel like we’re helping. At its core, what this cultural proverb is saying is there’s something better coming along, and even though we thought the best thing was what we had put our hopes in to begin with, God is going to open up the real best thing that we wouldn’t have expected.
However, as you may notice, even stating the cultural proverb in a more detailed form still doesn’t exactly show us why this is a faulty saying. We may think this sounds fine because we know that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). We think that this verse, and others like it, give us a sturdy bedrock to be able to point people to the hope that seems around the corner if they just trust that God knows what he’s doing.
Okay, enough buildup, let’s get to the problem. The problem with this saying is found not exactly in the words themselves, but in what the words seem to be implying. The implications are: 1) God will — has to — to open a window, and 2) that the good things God has for us are necessarily in this temporal life. The two implications are kind of tied together, but let’s look at both in order.
The Open Window
Most of the time, we’re implying this in good faith. Take the example of pain and suffering. If we’re walking with a friend through chronic, and constant, pain and a particular treatment they’ve set their sights on doesn’t work the way they had hoped, we may be tempted to throw this saying out to reassure them that it will be okay. This is a good instinct. We should try to care for those that we’re invested in, and we should grieve with them to the extent that their pain is so familiar to us that we just want it to end. However, I think this saying is unhelpful because that may not be God’s will at all.
To really unpack this, we’d have to dive deep into the different wills of God, but for now just know that God has two wills: a prescriptive will and a decretive will. The prescriptive will of God is what he’s made known to us about how he wants us to live and what he has declared is right (think the 10 commandments). On the other hand, the decretive will is what God has decreed will come to pass (think challenging words like predestination, sovereignty, etc). His will of decree is also known as his secret will, and the obvious implication here is that we don’t always get to know what that secret is. I really recommend this article by John Piper if you would like to learn more about this topic, but those quick definitions should help us along here.
Jumping back to our cultural proverb, we see that when we offer this saying we may be offering assurances of things we don’t know. We’re telling our loved one that God will do something that he may have decreed from eternity-past he won’t. A helpful example is Paul’s pleading with God over his thorn in the flesh described in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Paul is clearly in pain, and he — of all people — seems entitled to be relieved of his pain. He may have tried many “doors” that God has kept closed, and now he’s pleading with God to open that window. However, God simply keeps him in the room. No open doors. No open windows. What God tells him, instead, is that His grace is sufficient for him (v.9). Paul was left in his suffering so that God may be glorified in it. That’s a hard word for most of us, but it’s the truth. God is not compelled to open up another way for us so that we can find satisfaction and relief, instead, he calls us to simply rest in his grace and see that as more valuable than any temporally satisfying thing the world can offer (Romans 8:18). Which leads us into our second objection.
If we stop for a second and think about it, God’s goodness abounds to us more than we could ever know. The fact that there is breath in our lungs, we’ve eaten enough to make it to where we are now, we woke up this morning, all of it is God’s good grace and mercy toward us. And when we think about it a bit more, this goodness is afforded to all of God’s creation. He makes the rain fall, and the sun shine, on the good and the wicked alike (Matthew 5:45). However, our expectation — and the second flaw of this cultural proverb — is that we feel God’s goodness demands that he makes us happy with stuff and circumstances now, but that’s not what God has promised to us. The bible tells us that our real satisfaction is not found in creation, but in Creator. So you see, the difference is when we’re found by God’s unmerited grace in Christ, our ultimate end is not this life, but in glory with Christ. This is the bit of truth that our cultural proverb has, but is rarely — if ever — the actual implication of the “window” in the saying.
Paul says that if we have been raised with Christ, we are to set our eyes upon him. We are to look to his rule, as our seated king, and understand our lives here trough that lens (Colossians 3:1-3). With that in mind, we can look past the struggles of this world and see that the real good God intends for us — the true and better open window — is the way he’s made for us to be with him forever.