We’ve all heard someone say something like this: “I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out, but then God opened a door for me to go.” Or perhaps just the opposite: “I was all set to do that, but then God closed the door.” What do you think about that language? Is it legitimate? Just evangelical-ese?
I admit that I speak this way from time to time. When I do, however, I am not denying the fact that God accomplishes his purposes through means, nor am I blaming God for frustrated opportunities. No, when I speak of open or closed doors, I am aiming to highlight that ultimately God is the one orchestrating all things according to his perfect, sovereign will.
In his book Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will, Kevin DeYoung discusses both good and bad ways of using “open door” language.
Christians often speak of “an open door” from the Lord, meaning, “God is giving me this great opportunity.” Conversely, when things don’t seem to be going our way, we talk of God “closing a door,” or removing some possible opportunity.
This sort of thinking can be good if we see the open door as an opportunity to do something we already know is good, like sharing the gospel with a neighbor or taking a job to feed your family even though it’s not the work you’ve always wanted. Likewise, if “an open door” simply means “there’s one more spot in the study-abroad program and I think I’ll take it,” that’s fine too. In such cases, when we speak of open doors, we are merely referring to opportunities God has given us to do the good things we already wanted to do.
But there are foolish ways to use this “open-door” theology. Christians are sometimes guilty of using the absence of an open door as an excuse for laziness: “I put my resume on Monster.com last week and no one has contacted me. The Lord just isn’t opening any doors.” Perhaps, but maybe you should make some phone calls, knock on some doors, and visit every potential employer in town before you blame your unemployment on God.
Likewise, Christians often use “open door” theology to bless whatever bad idea they’ve already decided to do: “I know my marriage is in shambles, and my wife wants me around more so we can work things out, but God has opened the door for me to get a big promotion. The work will require me to travel 30 weeks a year and be away from my wife more than ever, but God must be leading me to take this job or else he wouldn’t have opened this door.”
From here, DeYoung notes how often people conflate “comfort & ease” with “God’s will.” A clever example he gives is from the book of Jonah; was an available boat ticket from Joppa to Tarshish an “open door” from God? Of course not.
DeYoung concludes his thought nicely:
Here’s the bottom line: if God opens the door for you to do something you know is good or necessary, be thankful for the opportunity. But other than that, don’t assume that the relative ease or difficulty of a new situation is God’s way of telling you to do one thing or the other. Remember, God’s will for your life is your sanctification, and God tends to use discomfort and trials more than comfort and ease to make us holy.
This is good advice for those of us who use the expression “God opened (or closed) the door.” When choosing to speak this way, let us keep an eye on our deceitful hearts which are all too quick to hijack an otherwise fine expression for self-centered or self-acquitting reasons.
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)