Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today, we are continuing in our series of messages, “That’s NOT in the Bible!” We’re looking at popular sayings and phrases that people commonly attribute to Scripture that can’t actually be found anywhere in the Bible. There are all sorts of people giving the Bible credit for things it doesn’t actually say, and we want to make sure that we’re not among them!
Many of these sayings come to us sounding like very wise proverbs that serve as signposts along life’s journey – markers to help us make sense of what we’re going through and experiencing. Over the last several weeks, as we’ve looked at these phrases, I can’t tell you how many of you have said, “Hey, I say that one all the time – now I’m going to have to think of it differently and probably won’t be able to use it in quite the same way. Thanks a lot!”
You’re welcome! That’s sort of the goal every time we come to church: for some aspect of our faith to be refreshed, whether that’s an insight, an understanding, a more direct connection with God, a spiritual practice, or whatever it is. And so, today, we are looking at another one of those phrases that’s not in the Bible, and my hope is that we’ll all leave with a fresher understanding of it than when we came in. Turn to your sermon notes as we look together at the phrase, “When God shuts a door, he opens a window.” May we pray.
Growing up, our family took a lot of road trips. With four kids on my dad’s pastor’s salary, the whole family almost never flew anywhere. We would pile into the Suburban, which was always parked a mile away from the entrance to whatever amusement park, museum, battlefield, or historic site we happened to have visited for the day, I swear it was always about 116 degrees outside, and inside the car, it was even hotter.
We would cram into the Suburban, all of us, sweat pouring down our faces, second-degree burns from the seatbelts, trying not to touch the sibling on either side, and as soon as the ignition turned over, we’d reach for the window buttons to let the hot air escape.
This always led to the same discussion. Dad would say, “Put those windows up! I’ve got the air conditioning on!” Whichever sibling’s turn it was or whoever was feeling a little mouthy – usually me – would say, “But Dad, it’s hot back here!” – resulting in a rehearsed debate about how air conditioning works. Parents made the argument about air conditioning working best when the environment was shut, meaning windows remained closed, kids making arguments that the air conditioning hadn’t “kicked in” yet, and it would work better if we could get all the super hot air out first. Dad usually made some comment about “not letting all the bought air out,” and by then, the air conditioning was starting to work and it was cooling down inside anyway, so it didn’t really matter.
Still, I couldn’t help but thinking, “If God opens a window when he shuts a door, why can’t we when we get in the car?”
Later in life, as a seminary student in my first grown-up home – a shared apartment with poorly-sealed windows and the minimum insulation required by code when the place was built in the early 70s – all of a sudden I was responsible for partial payment of the utility bills. During one particularly cold snap, I came across the phrase we’re looking at today – “When God shuts a door, he opens a window” – and thinking “Wow, I never realized heaven must be such a drafty place!” and, sounding more and more like my dad with each passing day, “Sounds like God’s letting all the bought air out!”
Let’s start where we’ve started for the last few weeks. We know this isn’t a Biblical quote, but it had to come from somewhere. So, who said it? I’m going to give you four options; once we’ve gone through all four, just for fun, I’ll invite you to vote for the person you think said it.
Option A - Oscar Hammerstein (1895-1960): the American librettist and theatrical producer who is best-known for his collaborative work with Richard Rogers.
Option B – King Ethelred the Unready (968-1016): The English king who ascended the throne at 10 when his half brother, King Edward, was murdered. He had no official court advisors, hence his title, “Unready,” which, more accurately translated from the Old English, should be “Un-counseled.”
Option C – Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922): the Scottish-born inventor and scientist, best known as the inventor of the first practical telephone.
Option D – Helen Keller (1880-1968): the American educator who was born blind and deaf, and her story of overcoming adversity continues to be an inspiration to many.
So who was it? The answer was E – “all of the above.” So, if you participated, then you win! If the person sitting near you voted, take a moment and congratulate them for getting it right! Hammerstein inserted a version of the saying into The Sound of Music, when Maria quotes the Reverend Mother. King Ethelred coined a different saying with the same face value: “’Tis a lesson you should heed; try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Alexander Graham Bell kept God out of it, saying, “When one door closes, another opens.” Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long as the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”
This is a tricky little saying that’s a little harder to pin down than some of the phrases we’ve already looked at in this series. For one thing, there are so many different versions of the phrase! For another thing, it’s used in widely variant ways - sometimes in ways that are helpful and hopeful to help us remember that there are always options and different ways of looking at a problem, and other times in less helpful ways that might lead us to shy away from a challenge instead of jumping into it.
What is most problematic about the phrase “When God shuts a door, he opens a window” is the implied role God is believed to play in the unfolding of these events. We have to ask ourselves, “Is this really consistent with what we know about the character of God?” Let’s turn to the Scriptures and see what light they have to shed on this.
The Bible passage we read a few moments ago said this: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,38,39).
This text is a beautiful, poetic, and powerful statement that serves as a crystal-clear snapshot of the character, disposition, and priority of God. And what does the snapshot reveal? That God is unwavering in God’s pursuit of us, that God is constantly seeking after us, that God is interested in moving toward us even when we are not particularly interested in moving toward God, that God uses every available opportunity to become accessible to us, that no barrier, whether human made or other-worldly, is significant enough to stand between God and us.
Wow! What a huge statement about the open and unconditional love and grace of God toward us! You could easily make this the refrain of God’s love song toward us - “Baby, there ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me from gettin’ you, babe!”
God sings that refrain to us over and over and over again. In fact, the entirety of Scripture echos that refrain, showing us time and time again the lengths and extraordinary efforts to which God is willing to go just to get to us. That’s what the Bible is - a story of a relationship between God and God’s people, chronicle-ing the ups and downs of that relationship, yet the overarching theme that runs through the entire Bible is that God is continually reaching toward us. Time and time again, when we turned away, when our love failed, God’s love remained steadfast. God continued to make good on God’s promises, covenanting to be our sovereign God, speaking to us through messengers who all pointed the way to Jesus, that the loving reconciliation God desires with all the world might finally be realized.
And so, we take this Biblical understanding of the character of God, and we weigh today’s phrase against it. Is the phrase “When God shuts a door, he opens a window” consistent with the character of God revealed in the Scriptures? We have to realize that no, it’s not! God does not construct barriers; God destroys barriers. God doesn’t build obstacles, God overcomes obstacles. Plain and simple, it is not consistent with the character of God to go around shutting, and locking, and slamming doors in the face of God’s children. Honestly, if that’s who God is, no thanks!
Now, that’s not to say that we’re still not going to come across locked doors in our lives. Truth is we’re all going to run into our share of doors that have been shut and locked and bricked over. We are all going to bump into limits and boundaries and wander down halls that are dead ends.
However, the reality of those occurrences - those frustrations, those difficulties, those challenges - the reality of those things still does not mean that God was the one who shut the door. Yes, there are lots of shut doors in life, but God is not the one shutting them. We shut doors. Other people shut doors. Powers and principalities shut doors. Hardship and distress, persecution and famine, nakedness and peril and sword - those things shut doors, but not God.
“When God shuts a door, he opens a window” - it’s just a nugget of worldly wisdom. It’s the best the world has to offer us, it’s what the world is trying to teach us about who God is and what God is doing. But friends, God offers us so much more.
This is true with the second part of this phrase, too! The worldly wisdom says, “God opens a window.” As I think about it, there are only two instances in which someone would even care about an open window if the doors were shut. The first would be an escape. The second would be to either sneak in or sneak out, say if we’re coming in after curfew, our parents have locked the door and gone to bed, we forgot our key, and we don’t want to wake them, which, of course, is something I NEVER did as a teenager. Actually, I just never got caught. My sister, however, was once greeted by my dad in his underwear with a shotgun as she tried to sneak in the kitchen window.
But back to the phrase - do we really think God is opening windows with the intent that we go sneaking in and out of them? Do we really think God is opening windows as some sort of an escape route? Do we really want to put such limits on the power and the imagination of God to deal with the locked doors we encounter in life?
I think of one of the places in Scripture where it specifically tells us how God deals with a locked door. Just after the death and resurrection of Jesus, he appeared to his disciples, and two times the Scriptures tell us they were in a locked room when he did. “When it was evening, . . . and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked . . . Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them, although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:26).
While a door that has been shut and locked may seem like a barrier to us, in the power of Christ’s resurrection, it is no barrier to God. A shut door is of no concern to God! We need not worry so much about finding our way to God for God is always seeking to find a way to us, even when the doors of our heart are locked and the windows to our soul are painted shut. Even when we’ve hit another dead end, run into another locked door, even when we feel trapped and hopeless and don’t know where to turn, the risen Christ overcomes the barrier that seems impenetrable to us and speaks peace into whatever predicament we find ourselves. God is unceasingly faithful in getting to us, especially when we feel alone, especially when we feel cut off, especially when we feel no hope. It is God’s prerogative to just keep faithfully coming after us, and that’s what God does because that’s how much you matter to God.
And so no - when God encounters a door that’s been shut, God doesn’t just open a window; God busts through the door like it’s not even there. Why? Because God will stop at nothing to get to you. That’s how much you matter to God, and we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.