“When God closes a door, he opens a window, right?” the author said as though she’d just penned some age-old axiom. After listening to her husband recount how he’d missed an important job interview due to car failure, this mom of six reassured herself of God’s good providence: if God says “no” to one opportunity, you can be sure he’s got another for you in the queue.
But like many other biblical-sounding phrases, this one isn’t actually in the Bible. It’s not wrong for that reason, but neither should we embrace such sayings because they bear some resemblance to the New Testament.
The world is full of religious clichés, and due to their catchiness and brevity, they possess unique power to weave themselves into our thinking and form our spiritual intuitions. Unwittingly, we begin to view the world and make decisions according to a list of clever platitudes instead of God’s Word.
What’s Wrong with That?
But catchiness isn’t the problem. Scripture provides us with an abundance of short, sharp, and serious sayings that God intends for us to hide in our hearts. The Proverbs are the most obvious example, but the prophets and the apostles also express Solomonic skill in delivering piercing one-liners.
The issue isn’t form; it’s content. The question we must ask is: does the statement, “When God closes a door, he opens a window,” accurately capture what Scripture teaches about God’s providence in our lives?
Removal of obstructions is no necessary sign God has ‘opened a door’ for us.
First, the language of “open doors” is found in the New Testament. When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, they attributed their recent missionary success to God’s opening “a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Paul told the Corinthians that a door of effective work had been opened for him in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:9). He used the same language to describe an opportunity in Troas (2 Cor. 2:12) and asked the Colossians to pray that God would open doors of greater gospel opportunity.
Second, God is for us and conducts his providence with our good specifically in mind (Rom 8:28). So the impulse behind the statement, inasmuch as it recognizes God’s disposition of kindness toward his children, is sound. Even when troubles befall us, God is working those trials for our benefit because he loves us.
Are Open Doors Always Good?
But that’s not all Scripture teaches. Even Paul’s statement about God working everything together for our good (Rom. 8:28) can be co-opted as a guarantee that my recent car accident will result in a newer and better midsize pickup. Bolstering our material comforts is not the primary aim of God’s providence. How Scripture defines “good,” and how it teaches us to interpret so-called open doors, is just as vital as memorizing popular biblical texts.
Contrary to much popular thinking, what we perceive as open doors may not be an indication that we’re walking in God’s will. For example, when God commanded Jonah to preach to Nineveh and he bolted for Tarshish, was his unfettered ability to locate a boat headed to Tarshish an indication that God had opened a door for him? Nope.
Was the rich man’s fruitful land, great wealth, and massive savings an indication that he was walking near to God and should retire early (Luke 12:13–21)? Hardly. Removal of obstructions is no necessary sign God has “opened a door” for us.
Are Closed Doors Always Bad?
Nor should we see opposition as an indication that God has closed a door. When Paul told the Corinthians about a door of effective work God had opened for him, he added: “and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:9). God opening a door may mean trouble is waiting just over the threshold. A lack of peace doesn’t mean a door has been closed, either. The door was open for ministry in Troas, but Paul was unsettled in his soul until he located Titus, so he left and went to Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:12–13).
It’s possible to experience divine opposition to our plans. When we move forward in pride and presumption, life may be full of unnecessary troubles (James 4:6). Looking around the room for a window won’t do you much good until you’ve dealt with your pride.
Looking around the room for a window won’t do you much good until you’ve dealt with your pride.
Laziness often introduces annoying snags into our daily lives, and thorn hedges often look like closed doors (Prov. 15:19). The sluggard will keep waiting for easier circumstances when God simply expects him to exercise Spirit-empowered diligence and start opening some doors of his own.
Assessing Doors and Windows
So how do we discern closed doors and open windows? Rather than banking on what we perceive to be favorable circumstances and then tagging these situations as open doors or plan-B windows, God calls us to align ourselves with his will as revealed in Scripture and to judge our context accordingly.
It may be what we judge as a closed door is the normal opposition that comes with living in a fallen world; thorns and thistles afflict us all (they just afflict the sluggard more acutely). A so-called closed door may be the kind of difficulty a soldier experiences when he engages enemy territory. Our plans for gospel ministry will often be opposed by the spiritual forces of darkness (Eph. 6:10–20). We shouldn’t expect otherwise.
It’s also possible that God may, for a time, leave us in a room with the door firmly closed—without the refreshment of an open window. Job was walking in God’s will, yet he was distressed with a series of mind-numbing trials. He looked longingly for a window, yet everything remained sealed tight and nailed shut. When God closes a door, he may leave you in the dark for a season until he speaks to you out of the whirlwind.
God may, for a time, leave us in a room with the door firmly closed—without the refreshment of an open window.
“When God closes a door, he opens a window” is not the kind of colloquial wisdom to build your life on. It’s far too simplistic to account for the rich texture of God’s providence, and it fools us into thinking life should be one favorable circumstance after another (or a favorable circumstance immediately following an unfavorable one).
Maybe God opened that window so you have a place to throw pious-sounding platitudes. Start with this one.
The Gospel Coalition