We talk much about guidance and mistakes in the Christian walk. If one sure mistake exists, it’s to eat half a bag of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms after 10:30 PM. Even now, my pancreas begs for mercy.
But I get like that when I’m pondering tough questions. One’s mind drifts in the ether, trying to solve all of life’s questions, and the hand reaches into that bag again and again. Soon, half the bag’s gone, replaced with ruing buying the dumb, corn-syruped thing in the first place.
(Drop me a line at 4:00 AM and see if I’m still wired.)
The topic that started the binge concerns open and closed doors. Evangelicalism obsesses over the idea that God opens and closes doors as part of the way He guides us. If I’d invested a dollar for every time in the last thirty years I’ve heard a Christian pray that God would open a door, my manservant, Bill Gates, would be serving me Château d’Yquem nightly in my palatial Seychelles island estate.
I’m fascinated by the open/closed door metaphor that we Christians so easily conjure for guidance. When I ponder its origins, a couple verses come to mind:
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: “This is the message from the one who is holy and true. He has the key that belonged to David, and when he opens a door, no one can close it, and when he closes it, no one can open it.
[Paul and Timothy] traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
I believe those two verses form the backbone of the open/closed door theology many Christians use today to justify guidance and the decisions they make.
What does the open/closed door theory of guidance look like? Well, a person has a decision to make, sets before the Lord the options, then pursues the option that “opens” or abandons the one that”closes,” perceiving the opening or closing of a “door” as the sanction or denial of a particular option.
Truthfully, I’ve struggled immensely attempting to understand that view of guidance. Yet so many Christians I know live and die by the open/closed door method of discerning God’s will.
- Is an “open” door truly God’s will? I could decide to park my car on a bridge, climb on top of the railing, then hurl myself off simply because that opportunity might be open. However, there’s no guarantee that God’s going to save me from my stupidity. Nor is hurling myself off a bridge God’s will. The Bible clearly does not support self-destruction, so it can never be God’s will to attempt to destroy one’s person. Satan tried that same temptation with the Lord, if we remember!
- Is a “closed” door truly closed? The door was obviously closed to the woman who pleaded with the judge to vindicate her against her enemy. She got nowhere with the judge. One day, though, under her persistent badgering, he relented, and she received what she desired. Should we use that verse to justify banging on closed doors?
- Is a “closed” door the result of God willfully closing it or from the interference of evil spiritual forces. (Likewise, could evil open a door?) Woo! Don’t ask too many of your Christian friends to deal with that one! Would a little extra prayer open the closed door? Remember, as Jesus noted, some closed doors that involve the demonic can only be resolved with prayer and fasting. They may eventually open.
It gets more complex than this, too.
Let’s look at two options:
- Door A offers a possibility that flies in the face of conventional Christian thinking. Many Christians would reject it, though they may do so based more on enculturation than explicit Scriptural admonition. For the person faced with this door, its opening would provide an immediate solution that, while not popular with some, would offer more immediate benefits.
- Door B offers a more traditional solution, but with more uncertainty and fewer immediate benefits, with the distinct possibility of fewer long-term benefits (or outright hardship). This door has the blessing of more Christians.
What, then, would one do if God “opens” Door A and not Door B? Walking through Door A might garner serious brickbats from fellow Christians. But didn’t God “open the door?”
On the other hand, if Door A is rejected in hopes that Door B opens, what happens if Door B stays “closed?” Are Church people willing to come to the aid of the person who rejects A on principle only to have B fail to open? My own experience in this scenario doesn’t give me much comfort that the Church will pick up the slack should someone take the tough stand and resist open Door A, only to later find Door B wedged shut. It also raises the troubling question that God doesn’t seem to know what He’s doing because He didn’t open the more popular “Christian” option.
I’ve had more than a few people tell me I’m one of the smartest people they’ve ever met. But being (supposedly) smart doesn’t resolve this open/closed door dilemma, at least for me. I know that when I face open/closed doors, particularly when the situation is pressing, I can rarely figure out what to do. As I get older, I find that indecisiveness growing rather than lessening. So much for the wisdom of the aged!
The problem of the open/closed door doesn’t always resolve through reading Scripture either. Some situations become one of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” and one can pile up Scriptures on either side to the point of utter confusion.
Some claim they make decisions by sensing more peace in one option than the other, yet I’ve seen the “peaceful” door turn out to have tigers lurking behind it. So I’m not sure the peace angle works.
I tend toward the countercultural angle, as I find that the wisdom of the culture reflects as no wisdom at all. Certainly not God’s wisdom. That means I often choose the door that runs counter to prevailing wisdom. I’m finding that, more often than not, my feet wind up on the narrow road, unpopular though it may be, even with other Church people.
Some may say that whatever path one winds up on reflects God’s will, but that doesn’t sit well with me, especially when following that supposedly God-directed path generates catcalls from other Christians, often the very ones who most support God’s sovereignty in all things. What, they’re suddenly not happy with God’s leading because it looks unconventional?
So I don’t know about the open/closed door means of discernment. It poses too many traps, too many Gideon-like fleeces, little of it reflecting true faithfulness. While God may very well lead that way, it may be the exception rather than the rule.