Have you ever waited for guests to arrive at your house for a visit? Piles of clutter have been collected, cobwebs have been cleared, and culinary treats have been created. You are ready!
The time arrives and you wait, watching from the windows, working at little details that don’t matter, waiting by the front door to welcome your anticipated company.
Five minutes pass, then 10, then 20. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. You had planned it precisely, had prepared well, and now you wonder, “What went wrong?” You open the front door and look out, scanning the driveway for any signs of the vehicle that is supposed to be there. You race to the calendar to see if you have the right date. You glance at the phone, willing it to ring to let you know that they are on their way. You tilt your head, listening for the sound of a car door.
However, the driveway is deserted. The date on the calendar is correct. The telephone is silent. You feel uneasy, a bit dejected, and very disappointed. You take the clutter out of the closets, put the piles back where they had been, and sit down to a delicious dessert that doesn’t taste the same without your friends being there. The excitement of an hour ago is lost somewhere behind a cobweb that you noticed had escaped your earlier cleaning efforts.
It’s then that you hear something at the back door. It sounds like a herd of elephants trying to make a grand (or not so grand) entrance. People are laughing and calling out “Hello!” They’re tripping over boots and shoes in the entrance, trying to get past boxes that are intended for the attic. You spring to your feet to welcome them, wondering why they have come in the back door and why they are so late.
Do you ever think that you have life figured out—that you know how things are going to happen? Have you ever watched your plans fade away, leaving you wondering, “What in the world is going on?”
What about God? Do you feel you have God figured out— that this is the way God works, and no other way? Do you assume that God will come at this time, park in this spot, walk up to this door, turn this doorknob, and walk into your world exactly when you expect? Do you believe that God will not come sooner than you want, or come later than you think?
In Isaiah 55: 8-9 we find these words: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Do you want to hear some good news? We can’t fully understand God! Oh, we try. We put God into our own little boxes. Sometimes we even make God “look” and “act” like us. But in reality, God is bigger. Period.
Paul joins the chorus with these words in Romans 11:33: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” How often have we been perched in anticipation by the front door of our lives, watching for God to enter there, only to discover that God is at the back door? Or that maybe God has already entered and is working and we don’t even realize it!
There are many examples in scripture about this “back door” God.
Noah, a man who found grace in God’s eyes, finds God at the back door with a hammer and a blueprint for a large boat, even though it had never rained before. Talk about a higher way! Abraham—with his son, Isaac, an altar, a knife, and fire—is another example. Isaac was to be the sacrifice, but then at the back door—at the last moment—the knife is stopped, the test is passed, and a ram is provided.
What about Moses and the Israelites by the Red Sea? There’s water ahead and the Egyptian army behind. Imagine the fear and turmoil. They thought they were to die in that wilderness and complained to Moses. Moses reassured them and then cried to the Lord. It was a desperate situation. Time was of the essence. They were helpless without God’s intervention. But guess who went to the back door? “The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them” (Exodus 14:19). How’s that for back-door protection? The way of deliverance was a dried-up path through the Red Sea.
David was called to face Goliath. He “met” God at the back door, where there were five stones—and it took only one to bring that tall man down.
Esther, faced with life and death, chose to stand for her people, and at the “back door” she met a golden scepter that was raised for her. Thus, there was help for the Jewish people.
Daniel would not stop praying, even if it meant his life, and, for a while, it looked like it would very well cost him just that. What went through Daniel’s mind as he awaited his fate? Did he check the “front door” one more time, thinking that maybe, just maybe, God would be there? When he landed in that den, did he brace himself to be torn to pieces? When did Daniel hear the back door close, and realize, with relief, that God had come and that he would not be lunch for the lions after all?
What about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They were bound for the fiery furnace. They were certain that their God was able to deliver them. Even if God did not, they were determined, still, not to serve the gods of King Nebuchadnezzar. The fire was so hot that it killed those whose task it was to throw the three Hebrews into the flames. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the front door didn’t open. They were tied up and were thrown into a blazing furnace. But God had slipped in through the “back door” of that inferno and was waiting for them. When they came out of the fire, their bodies were not harmed, their hair was not singed, their clothes were not burned, and they didn’t even smell of smoke. Again we find the back door God.
The story of Christmas highlights, in a wonderful way, our back door God. We wouldn’t have sent a baby. We wouldn’t have told mere shepherds. We wouldn’t have experienced a dirty stable. But we aren’t God. Really, that is the point. God slipped in the back door that night because God knew what we needed. We needed a Savior.
Let’s embrace our God of the back door and not try to regulate how, when, or where God works. And in the quietness of your heart, listen closely for the creaking of your own back door.
Melody Keller lives in Wales, Maine, and is a member of the Lewiston (Maine) Church of the Brethren.