Imagine yourself in a room. The door behind you shut firmly, and you find yourself looking around at the walls, the floor, the ceiling, wondering how you ended up here. The color of the walls, the coldness of the floor, the smell of old furniture, and the taste of neglect fill your senses with a twist of comfort and anxiety.
At the far side of the room, you see a door, obscured mostly by darkness. The doorknob is partially lit, inviting you to see what lies beyond but cautioning you all the same. The room is quiet, strangely quiet, so that your thoughts are almost audible. You suspect you know what may be beyond the next door, but you’re not quite sure, and you don’t know if you want to find out. And you’re not sure you want to give up yet as you’ve come this far.
So the question lies before you: should you stay, or should you go back, or should you go on?
I find myself in this room all the time. This place is the farthest I’m willing to go with a hard question. Circumstances in life lead to thoughts, and thoughts lead to rooms with doors. Each door opens the implications of the next thought into another room, with perhaps another door, and there’s a point that feels too far, that to go any farther means embracing something about God, or myself, that I fear to embrace.
Let me give you an example. Ephesians 1:4 tells us: “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” So when we think about God’s sovereignty in election, we find ourselves in a large antechamber with several doors. One well-worn door may be labeled “God Chose Us By His Foreknowledge of Our Decisive Will. Another farther down the wall may say “God Chose Us By His Sovereign Will.”
We might walk to the first door, reach out our hand to feel the grain of the wood, pausing to consider what may lie just beyond. We might then walk to the second door and grasp the knob. Closing our eyes, we open the door and enter the next room.
This room is smaller, with a slightly different hue and smell. We see two more doors, one to our right and a second on the opposite wall. These doors look smaller, but heavier, and they also look old. We turn, realizing we can go back into the antechamber whenever we please. So we walk forward and inspect the names chiseled deep within each door.
One says, “God’s Will Is Unaffected By Man,” and we pause to consider what that might mean. Do we live within a deterministic reality? Are we simply marionettes, carrying out a temporal play at the flick and twist of a divine puppet master? We move to the other wall, coming close to a door that says, “God’s Will Is Affected By Man,” and we wonder at what this might mean? Do our actions, or our prayers, affect the carrying out of God’s will in a dynamic way? Is this interaction truly real and foreknown by God, or is it simply foreknown in the sense that it’s actually not dynamic?
We might go back to the first door, believing that God’s sovereignty must mean His will is not affected by man. So we grip the door and pull it open, passing through the frame into the next room. We find a chair, so we sit and consider the moment. If God’s will is unaffected by man, then what good are our prayers? Is James right: do the prayers of the righteous have great power? Or are our prayers means of God accomplishing His own will through us, for our sake? And if so, are they truly effective, or are they only pretense?
This might be a room in which we sit for a while. And maybe we don’t get up to look at the inscriptions on the doors on the far end of the wall. Perhaps we go back out the way we came, trying another set of doors, or ultimately ending up back at the antechamber, where we’re not necessarily more content but at least we’re comfortable.
We are always in one of these rooms, or we’re either in the process of sitting, or going back, or considering the next door, or grasping the knob, or walking through to the next room. Wherever we find ourselves, there are some observations we can make that are worth considering—and carrying with us as we go about our thinking.
- God sees the start and end of this long line of rooms. He made the doors. He grants us grace to turn the knob. And He meets us in each moment as we wait, and turn back, and walk forward.
- Intellectually understanding the line of rooms is different than actually walking through them with heart in tow.
- Some rooms exist in order to be explored and then vacated.
- Many others have been through these doors and in these rooms; we do well to listen to their stories.
- The doors are worth entering. Jonathan Edwards, in his 11th resolution, determined to try these kinds of doors so long as his legs had strength: “Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.”
- We walk in vain when we don’t walk with the Spirit through these rooms.
- Finding our way to the last room may join us with the apostle Paul, exclaiming, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
May God grant us the grace to explore, and pause to reflect, and go back, and try other doors, and strive to enter the place where we rest in inscrutability of His glorious ways.
Question: What door are you uneasy about opening?