Monday, 08 July 2013 14:03

Praying Through the Dark Night of the Soul

Written by  Brad Wesner
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Ever have things completely bottom out?  Maybe you are David being chased by Saul (I Samuel 19), Samson without hair (Judges 16:20-22), Job without worldly goods (Job 2:13), John the Baptist in prison (Mark 6:27) or Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:46).  Just because you are a Christian does not make you immune from your world crashing and your entering into a Dark Night, a feeling of isolation – a feeling of being abandoned by God.  Like Jesus on the cross, we cry out, “My God.  My God.  Why has thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)



Why a Dark Night?

Some people deserve the trouble they get into.  If they put their hand on a hot stove burner, it is only fair that they get a burn on their hand.  If they hit their thumb with a hammer, it is only natural for the thumb to thump.  A lot of people are experiencing the Dark Night because of an error they made – they cheated on a spouse, stole from an employer, etc. – and this seemingly minute incident caused their world to fall apart.  After all is said and done, only God is left, and, many times, we wonder if even He can forgive.  God does forgive, though, and gradually He will lead us through the Dark Night in which we have placed ourselves; no matter how far we have fallen, we can once again be agents used for His glory.


However, sometimes the trials one is going through are not consequences deserved from one’s actions.  Did David, the man who stood up to Goliath for God’s sake (I Samuel 17), deserve to be branded as a criminal (I Samuel 19)?  Did Joseph, the man who declined to mess around with a married woman, deserve to go to jail because of her lies (Genesis 39:2-20)?  Did Peter, who was trying to spread the gospel, deserve to go to prison (Acts 12:1-4)?  All of these people were trying to do the right thing, to give God praise and glory, and they got rewarded with a Dark Night.


When people find us undergoing a Dark Night, they may ask, “What did you do to deserve this?”  When the disciples first joined Jesus’s ministry and they saw people suffering, they asked Jesus, “What did you do to deserve this” and “Is this your fault or is it due to the sin of a parent?” (John 9:1)  Jesus set them straight, saying, “Neither. This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3, NIV). 


The term “dark night of the soul” comes from a poem by the same name by St. John of the Cross written around 1579.  The poem recognizes that in life’s journey, the Dark Night is the point in which a person can rely on nothing but God – friends, money, education, and experience are all for naught.  As Solomon proclaimed in Ecclesiastes 1:1 (NIV), “Meaningless.  Meaningless.  All is meaningless.”  When undergoing the Dark Night of the Soul, we acknowledge that God is the source of our strength and that without him everything else is meaningless.


Many times when things are going right in our lives we tend to take credit ourselves or simply mutter, “Thank you, God.”  We have so much to do - family, friends, work, and play – that God is often an afterthought, if thought of at all.  Satan made a good point when he told God that “it is easy for people to love you when they get blessings in return” (Job 2:4-5).   During the Dark Night of the Soul, the blessings are stripped away and all can tell if one truly loves God for being God. 


The Dark Night is not only a time of getting one’s priorities straight, it is also a time of self-discovery.  God has blessed us with many talents, but, when times are good, a lot of those talents go undiscovered or underutilized.  It is in times of stress, when we search deeply, that we realize the character of which we are made.


Although we may cry, “Why has thou forsaken me?”, deep inside we must cling to Jesus’s promise of: “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20).  It is this reassurance that allows us to face the Dark Night.  Just as Isaac sat unflinching as Abraham drew the knife to kill him (Genesis 22:2) and as Daniel sat in the lion’s den (Daniel 6), we see the danger and darkness around us.  Even though we don’t see a way out, we trust God that there is one.  Even though we may feel alone, we know we are not – this is faith tested to its limit.  We must trust God.  We must accept that God works on his schedule, not ours.  We must submit our will to His will.  As Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).



In The Valley of the Shadow of Death

The Dark Night is part of a journey.  As the psalmist David noted, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:1).  Notice David’s use of the term walk.  Life is a journey.  The valley of the shadow of death is one of many places along the journey.  It is not meant to be a place to stop; instead, we are to keep walking.  The Dark Night is often a bridge to an exciting future.


Also notice the word through.  Although we may not see the end to the valley, we know in our hearts there is one.  The Dark Night may appear endless, but, because of our faith, we know that the appearance is deceptive; we have confidence the valley does not go on forever. Journeying through the Dark Night is often a slow process – Samson’s hair did not grow back overnight, but it did eventually come back and Samson was able to serve the Lord again (Judges 16:22).  The Dark Night may last a day, a week, a month, or years.  Like the Hebrews traveling the wilderness with Moses, remember there is a Promised Land waiting at the end (Exodus 33:1).


In the valley of the shadow of death, we have every reason to fear evil and every reason to be depressed.  Although we Christians feel this anxiety and depression, we have the assurance that God will not forsake us – “thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4), and this is enough to get us through the troubled time.



Other Options Besides Walking Through the Dark Night

Not all Dark Nights end with people successfully walking through the Dark Night.  Although Daniel may have gotten out of the lion’s den alive, a lot of first century Christians became lion chow.  Although we might feel sorry for them since they do not get to come from the Dark Night, just as we may feel sorry for Moses because he did not get to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 34:5), we shouldn’t – they get to go be with God, and that is far better.  Although we are prone to feel sorry for Christians who die while undergoing the Dark Night, they actually had a happy ending.


Martyrs are not the only ones who die, though.  Undergoing a Dark Night of the Soul is extremely taxing, and many people turn to suicide rather than face it.  Consider Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Overwhelmed with guilt, shunned by the disciples, manipulated by organized religion, and finding money meaningless, this was the time for him to turn to God.  Rather than turn to God, though, Judas opted to escape the Dark Night by committing suicide (Matthew 27:5).


A lot of people don’t get as desperate as Judas and physically take their lives, but they still check out.  When a new believer encounters a trial, the believer sometimes finds it much easier to drop the new faith rather than continue through the Dark Night.  As Jesus admitted in the Parable of the Sower, some seed is choked by weeds (Matthew 13).



Remember God’s Promises

Knowing the ending has sustained many through the Dark Night.  Abraham may have been childless, but he knew God had promised him many descendants (Genesis 22:17).  Joseph was in prison, but he had experienced a God-given dream that one day his brothers would bow down to him, and that dream kept him going (Genesis 37:5-7).  David may have been the most wanted man in all of Israel, but he knew Samuel had anointed him to be king (I Samuel 16).  In the same way, God has promised us eternal life with him (John 14:2).  In the darkest hour of the Darkest Night, remember that God keeps his promises.  Even when it looks impossible for that promise to be kept – that just makes the miracle greater.


Some Dark Nights last minutes; some last years.  Like sheep who follow their shepherd – The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1) – we go wherever He would have us to go.  We can’t worry about how long it will last; it is the course that is laid out before us.  As Paul said, “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:2).


Dark Nights are terrifying experiences.  Danger lurks everywhere.  We realize we are overwhelmed.  We know that the odds are stacked against us, but, like Daniel in the lion’s den, we know to look to the Lord and not at the lions.  The lions certainly have the power to destroy us, but God has authority over the lions.  Although our world is turned on end during the dark night – turned in ways that we never expected it to be turned – we must remember that in the end, God wins (Revelation 22).           


The Dark Night of the Soul is certainly a miserable experience – at least when it begins, for we grieve for our losses.  In time, though, we realize we haven’t lost our most precious possession – our salvation and our relationship with Jesus.  Once we realize that and build on that relationship, we have begun to emerge from the Dark Night.  The Dark Night of the Soul can be one of the most intense God-experiences one ever has!



Brad Wesner is a contributing writer residing in South Carolina.



Last modified on Monday, 08 July 2013 14:14
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