“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, while this saying may have some truth to it, it’s a different truth than we were expecting.
We tend to offer this saying to others when we hear that they’re disappointed or in pain. Imagine your best friend has been suffering from chronic, and debilitating, migraines for years. They’ve seen the specialists, tried the treatments, but nothing works. Every door they try is closed. No one can explain why they are happening, therefore no one can provide a solution to make them stop. The situation is hopeless. It’s in this type of situation that we may be tempted to let this saying slide out of our mouths in an attempt to be comforting and feel helpful. At its core, what this proverb is saying is, there’s something good coming along and even though we thought the solution was what we had put our hopes in to begin with, God is going to open up the real fix we didn’t expect.
We may think this sounds wise 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 good things that must be just around the corner if they only trust that God knows what he’s doing.
The problem with this saying is found 1) in the promise that God will open a window in this life when he might not, 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 that God will open a window in good faith. Take our earlier example of inexplicable migraines. If we’re walking with a friend through their chronic 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 who suffer, and we should grieve with them to the extent that their pain is so familiar to us that we too are desperate for it to end. However, I think this saying is unhelpful because that may not be God’s will at all.
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, 2 Corinthians 4:17). This leads us into our second objection.
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. This goodness is given 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 worldly wisdom—is that we often fall into believing God’s goodness demands that he makes us happy with stuff and circumstances now. But that’s not what God has promised to us. Instead, we’re told that even when we walk through the hardest of life’s circumstances with no doors or windows in sight, we have the assurance of knowing that God is with us in it and will not leave us (Psalm 23:4).
The Bible tells us that our real satisfaction is not found in creation but in our Creator (Ecclesiastes 1:2, Psalm 16:5, 73:26, 142:5). He alone is our strong tower (Proverbs 18:10). When we are saved by Christ, our ultimate end is not this life but glory with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth. Eternal life is the true “window” that God provides when all earthly doors have closed. This is the bit of truth that this saying has—he hasopened a window and it leads to complete satisfaction in our ultimate end (Psalm 23:6). Unfortunately, glory with Christ is rarely—if ever—people’s understanding 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 king, and understand our lives here through that lens (Colossians 3:1-3).
With these truths in mind we can, with Paul, boast all the more gladly in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). This mindset demonstrates that every moment we have breath in our lungs is an opportunity for God’s strength to be manifested in our powerlessness and to acknowledge that there is still good that God intends for us. The true and best open window is the way he’s made for us to be with him forever, and he will be faithful to bring us to that end.