I don’t like tight spaces. The first time I remember panicking was when, during a sleepover at my buddy’s house, we were playing some sort of hide and seek game. I had found a cubbyhole to hide in and my pal, attempting to help me, blocked the entrance with a bunch of pillows so no one could see me. It was silly, but I panicked. That was a long time ago and my mild claustrophobia is largely under control. But I am a little embarrassed to admit that were I to be given a free ticket for an adventure to outer space, it’s likely that my distaste for being confined to a tiny ship with a limited air supply might over rule the desire for the adventure of a lifetime and an opportunity to see the heavens from a new perspective.
Being shut in is associated with pain and punishment. Children are “grounded” for disobedience. Criminals are locked up. The sick and infirm are quarantined. When liberty is curtailed, we feel it as a punishment. Confinement is associated with a debilitated condition and a lowering of happiness. So when I read the phrase “the Lord shut him in”, it struck me. For the one being shut in was the one man on the earth who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.Genesis 7:16
Because God was pleased with Noah, He shut him in. Because Noah was righteous in his generation, God confined him to an ark. For forty days the intensity of the deluge that soaked the world beyond the ark was manifested as an unceasing reverberation within it, until it pressed upon their minds like a wet blanket and they forgot the distinctness of each other’s voices or the cheerfulness of a bird’s song. The day the rains ceased must have been like awakening from a drugged stupor as sounds became crisp and the fog of white noise dissipated. They didn’t know that it would be another 9 months before the ark would give birth to the future of man and animal kind.
Escape. That must have been what it felt like. I can’t imagine feeling any other way. It would be an escape to get off the ark. To walk beneath blue skies stretched like an infinite canopy above. To trace the contours of the earth until they dipped into the horizon, knowing that the their feet could now carry them to such places. To breathe air that hadn’t been filtered through the zoo that lived at arm’s reach. To wander with no purpose but to wander.
How hard it must have been to remember that the Lord shutting them in was gracious, not punitive. How easily their compass would spin and they would desire to escape the ark, forgetting that the ark was their escape from the wrath that had overtaken the whole earth. How tempting to grumble at unusually difficult circumstances instead of being grateful for unusually powerful salvation.
The Lord had shut him in. Shut him in with the seeds of all future life on planet earth. Shut him in with the animal kinds that would once again teem upon the earth and fill the heavens and nurture the ground and declare the glory of God in an infinite number of absurdities and dangers. Shut him in with the ancestors of 8 billion human beings who would one day build cities and cure cancer and write blog posts, win glory and bear shame, kill and be killed, love and be loved. Shut him in with the understanding that the ark was a place of safety when everywhere else was a place of destruction.
I still don’t like tight places. Especially when the air is stale and there’s no telling when the doors will open and release will come. But I do know that there are times when being shut in is redemptive, not punitive. There are times when, like a madman, we long for release from the very vehicle of our hope and salvation. There are days we forget that the reason we cannot run as far as our hearts would carry us is because we have been entrusted with seeds of future hope and glory. We must learn to be content when God shuts us in.