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I’ve never been more religious than when God closed a door, literally, in the form of a rejected housing application. It was for a little cottage on the edge of town, a “starter home” for me and my wife-to-be, and it was all but ours until, one miscommunication and a phone call later, I learned that the lease had already been signed by someone else’s eager, sweaty fingers. When the same thing happened again, twice, it became very clear that there was a bearded man in the sky, pulling levers and shutting doors, blessing the broken road that would lead us straight to the best starter home in town. I started journaling again, searching the Bible, actually praying in church, trying my best to understand Big Brother who was playing boardgames with our fates. God, I asked, are you trying to tell me something?

When God closes a door, we expect him to open a window, because, no matter what the landlord says, we are determined to get inside. An expectation like this becomes superstition very quickly—faith becomes divining tea leaves and tracing inscrutable clues left in the wake of the almighty. During my desperate hunt for housing, I weighed each availability on a scale of “divine intervention” to “not divine intervention”; strangely enough, the divine ones aligned with what I wanted–small but not too small, close to downtown, with a spacious kitchen and updated appliances and plenty of space for pizza parties. Even more shocking, the availabilities that I felt were divine didn’t in the end pan out. By the end of the process, I had myself thinking this whole thing was a big caucus race, that the universe was indifferent and absurd and signified nothing.

Only later, as I was absently rubbing a bagel butter stain into my copy of The Stranger, did I realize that my claims to absurdism hinged only on whether or not the steps of my life proceeded as I expected them to. In other words, the stone tablets that I was giving to God were my plans; I suspect the human race has been doing this long before God gave us a taste of our own medicine, handing Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. So doing, God reminded us not just of our iniquities but also of how we too make insatiable demands. God’s Law was given for our benefit, but the laws that we give to God are, selfishly, for our benefit as well. And when our expectations for the man in the sky are thwarted or redirected, we find ourselves disappointed, defeated to apathy, and grappling with alternative philosophies of superstition and absurdism.

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When the doors keep closing, and we can’t find any windows into the starter home of our dreams, we get disappointed. Disappointment, I’ve discovered, pervades not just religion but life in general, because even worse than not getting what we want is not being who we want. When I was maybe five, a kindergartner, I was convinced that my big sister was going to be a famous doctor, my brother a famous baseball player, and myself a famous artist.

The following is an excerpt from Dave Eggers’s 2014 novel, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? (I can’t recommend the novel highly enough—at about 200 pages, it’s a quick read written entirely in dialogue), which explores the emotion of disappointment and how prevalent it is in modern society, not just among young people. The book relays a series of interviews between a disgruntled thirty-something man named Thomas and various people he has kidnapped. In this particular scenario, he is interrogating a retired congressman whom he has chained up in an abandoned military base. The exchange begins with Thomas theorizing:

—Don’t you think that the vast majority of the chaos in the world is caused by a relatively small group of disappointed men? …
—[The congressman replies:] I don’t know. Could be.
—The men who haven’t gotten the work they expected to get. The men who don’t get the promotion they expected…These men can’t be left to mix with the rest of society. Something bad always happens…When I see these massacres at malls or offices, I think, There by the Lake of God go I.
—Grace of God.
—What’s that?
—It’s “there but for the grace of God.”
—No. It’s “there by the Lake of God.”
—It’s “grace of God.”
—It can’t be.
—Son. It is.
—I’ve always had this picture in my mind of the Lake of God. And you walk by it.
—There’s no Lake of God.
—It was like this huge underground lake, and it was dark and cool and peaceful and you could go there and float there and be forgiven.
—I don’t know what to tell you, son. I’ve been teaching the Bible for thirty-eight years and there is no Lake of God in that book. There’s a Lake of Fire, but I don’t think that’s the place you’re picturing.
—See, even that…Even that’s a sign that the world has misused people like me. How could I not know that, the difference between the Lake of God and the Lake of Fire?
—I don’t know if that misunderstanding is symptomatic of a societal failure. You got your lakes confused.

Thomas’s conception of the Lake of God, a place where it’s cool and where you float and become forgiven, isn’t so different from the actual grace of God that the traditional idiom fails to capture. But this passage’s real potatoes are in its beginning when Thomas declares that the world’s chaos is a result of disappointment.

kcas81As a young man, my own narrative of disappointment may very well find its roots in a little thing called Disney Channel Original Movies, which was a series of TV movies released in the early 2000s, one Friday a month at 8/7 central, and which illustrated a life in which a normal kid like me could win all sorts of awards for having an incredible singing voice, or write a best selling novel on accident, or become a gold medal surfer despite being the new kid at school, all before turning eighteen. I couldn’t not expect my life to look at least a little bit like that; in reality, I went to college and became a blogger. “Oh. Interesting,” you say. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that.” Did God close a door? Is he going to open a window and let me become Andy Brink Brinker, the champion Soul Skater I always wanted to be?

Disappointed chaos-makers are products of a generation (this generation? every generation?) that thinks it is at the center of a winning story, up and up, always upward, despite countless setbacks—there can’t be anything but a happy ending, an open window, as defined by our expectations for it.

The editor of The NY Times‘s “Modern Love” column, Daniel Jones, who was also featured in an interview for The Mockingbird‘s Relationship Issue, said, “People have such a hunger for a formula and for advice that takes the form of a formula.” He was talking about love, but that also applies to life and God. We expect that God will provide for us in ways that we can understand and we fail to appreciate the little miracles of sustenance, beginning with the small one that, despite all the chaos in the world, caused by us, we are still breathing even now.

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From Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation:

Thesis 19: That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened (or have been made, created).

Let’s call a thing what it is and admit that the invisible things of God are invisible; we cannot understand what we cannot understand. The door is closed. It strikes me that faith isn’t climbing through the bushes to find an open window in part because that is almost no different from striving for the American dream. It is confusing faith with the expectation for a clockwork God to follow my plans.

Sometimes doors close, and we can’t understand why. And faith doesn’t necessarily mean trying to; faith is receiving the closed door. Or, as JAZ wrote in 2010, “Faith, in this respect, is trusting God when we do not know what He is doing, and in spite of the fact we cannot know what double rainbows mean. It is knowing that He is trustworthy even when we do not trust him.”

God may not follow a formula to get us there, but his answer is always the same–that much we know. No matter how disappointed, anxious, or chaotic we become; no matter how many windows we break to force our will in the world, he will never stop leading us back to the banks of the cool, blue Lake of God, the place to go and float and be forgiven.