"Shutting Out" as a Means of Grace
I remember reading the creation story in Genesis as a child and seeing illustrations depicting Adam and Eve’s sin. They disobeyed the one direct command of God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I looked at a drawing of God’s finger pointing Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. How could God send them out of the paradise he carefully created for them?
I too failed to follow my parents’ instructions at times. Would I be sent out, also?
I thought of God as a forbidding task-master, punishing his children at their first failure. Forced to leave their home, they now made their own way in a fallen and cursed land. No more abundance and delight, protection, and provision. No more intimacy and fellowship with God as they walked together in the cool of the evening. One verse captured the poignancy of the moment— “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen 3:24)
What a picture—the ultimate “shutting out” experience.
I held this opinion of the fall until, as an adult, I became immersed in grace theology. Simply put, God’s heart and character always operates out of extending grace—undeserved mercy and love—to his creation. How did this fit with “shutting them out” of the garden in the Genesis story?
As I contemplated this scene in light of his grace, another picture formed in my mind—a loving God who grieved over the sin of man and mourned the loss of intimacy with his friends. He knew if they ate from the tree of life after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would live forever in their sinful state. Sadly, he shut them out as an act of love until a Redeemer could come to pay the price for man’s sin and restore them to their original design. This new image changed everything.
Instead of punishment, shutting them out of the garden was protection.
Now, instead of imagining the scene with severity, I pictured a grieved Creator shedding a tear as he pointed his finger. His love caused him to do the hard thing.
Is this Scriptural? Later in Genesis, the account reports the wickedness of man and the inclination of his every thought leaning toward evil at all times. After this statement comes the verse—“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:6)
Just as our hearts are saddened and shattered at times with pain, God’s heart was broken by the condition of man. So yes, it fits that his grief began with the scene at the gate of the Garden of Eden. He loved Adam and Eve and wanted them near, yet he protected them in their sin and disobedience. He looked ahead to a future redemption when they would be fully restored to their original relationship through a Savior promised even in this first account in Scripture.
We see in Revelation--the end of the story--that one day they would taste of the fruit of the tree of life as redeemed man and woman, when they would live forever with him. This is the whole reason Jesus came.
Has God appeared to “shut you out” from blessings or answered prayers? Look again at your story through the lens of grace. The circumstances may actually reveal his protection instead of punishment, just like the creation story.
"Shutting In" as a Means of Grace
Later in the Genesis account, God’s grief intensified. Because of their evil deeds, he desired to wipe mankind from the face of the earth. He would have been justified to do this—after all, man was his creation! Again, it says, “I am grieved that I have made them.”
Then something happened to restrain his wrath. Noah, a righteous man, found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Put another way, “Grace found Noah.” Noah didn’t discover or “find” grace; instead, grace found him. The difference is significant because the action begins and ends with God being both the initiator and extender of grace.[i]
Instead of annihilation, God launched the first rescue mission. Noah faithfully followed God’s commands and built an ark over a period of 100 years, despite the constant criticism and mockery from others who thought he was a lunatic.
When the rain began and the waters rose, Scripture says “Then the Lord shut him in.”
Again, God’s actions could appear as punishment—shutting him in to a bleak existence on a huge ship. Rainstorms were unheard of in those early days and could have caused tremendous angst for Noah. To live in a tossing vessel in the darkness of an unknown future may have been frightful and traumatic. Yet the isolation for 40 days during the rain and another six months of sailing on the ark became Noah’s salvation—not only for him, but for mankind. By responding to God’s commands, the story of Noah provides a picture of Christ who saves us from the storms of life. By entering the ark, Noah ensured the physical survival of himself and his family.
Has God appeared to “shut you in” by illness, difficult circumstances, or isolation? Do you feel adrift in pain as if abandoned by him? By looking behind the circumstances and trusting his purpose, we may find rescue instead of punishment, redemption instead of destruction.
Maybe our distorted image of God needs to be refocused, just like mine did as a child. May we consider that the tear which falls from our face is mirrored on the face of a Savior who grieves right along with us.
“Oh Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.” [iii]
May the God of grace reveal his heart of love and kindness toward us all. And may we, like the hymnist, learn to trace the rainbow through the rain and see the promise behind the pain.
[i] Carney--Brooks, The Way of Grace, page 141. Intervarsity Press 2014.
[ii] Ken Ham, The Ark as a Picture of Jesus, Dec 24, 2013, answersingenesis.org.
[iii] George Matheson, O Love That Will Not Let Me Go. Words published in the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work, January 1882.