The Dark Night of the Soul
Recently, Chris went to a retreat where the speaker spoke about "The Dark Night of the Soul." That was a term new to me and at first it sounded really, um, unlovely. But once he explained it, I was immediately encouraged. I just had to share it.
RC Sproul describes the "Dark Night of the Soul" as a spiritual depression. One that many righteous men have walked through. Men like King David (just check out the pslams), Jeremiah (the "weeping prophet"), Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon. The trouble we have with spiritual depression is that, in today's Christian culture, we think that depression and faith/hope/joy can't co-exist. How do we have "peace that passes understanding" and gut-wrenching despair at the same time? But we do, don't we?
For me, this happened shortly after my surgery. I spent a week crying and grieving. I shared some of this before but I want to tell you now that even while I cried, I was confused. I knew to my core that I was glad to be alive. But I was overwhelmed with tears of sadness. OVERWHELMED. All I could do was cry and try my best to explain it to Chris. This was my Dark Night of the Soul. Darlene Deibler Rose, the missionary imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp I share with you before had her Dark Night of the Soul in solitary confinement. Throughout her imprisonment and separation from her husband she was sustained in her faith by a feeling of God's presence with her. But on one night in solitary confinement, that feeling left her. She wrestled all night with what that could mean. How should she process this new, very uncomfortable experience in light of her lifetime of faith? It brought her to utter despair.
I'm coming to realize that there is something to the struggle itself. To walking through that Dark Night and not escaping it. There is a sense of value and profit in the darkness. Kelly Kapic, in Embodied Hope, explains that in the past, early Christians understood this value implicitly.
They "understood that evil and suffering existed. It was their place, as the people of God, to resist the evil when they could, and to mourn and lament the brokenness that they could not overcome. ... their willingness to lament and hope amid their trouble was part of their answer to the suffering."
Did you catch that? Being willing to lament and hope was part of the answer!
Paul wrote in 2 Cor 4:8-10, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” RC Sproul breaks this down so well. "So we have this pressure to bear, but the pressure, though it is severe, does not crush us. We may be confused and perplexed, but that low point to which perplexity brings us does not result in complete and total despair. Even in persecution, as serious as it may be, we are still not forsaken, and we may be overwhelmed and struck down as Jeremiah spoke of, yet we have room for joy.
"There's so much encouragement to found here. First, the despair isn't sin. It's natural. We can be reassured in our dark place when we take our despair to God. When we honestly cry out our pain and fears and let God reassure us of his presence and love. This is the whole point of a lament.Second, a night always precedes a MORNING. We make it through our dark night to find the sun rising, again. It is so faithful to rise each day. Its very presence each morning is a reminder of God's faithfulness to us. I love this reminder in Psalm 46:5 ,
God is in the midst of his city, secure and never shaken. At daybreak his help will be seen with the appearing of the dawn.
For me, my Dark Night of the Soul was hard. Really hard. But God matched my overwhelming despair with overwhelming reassurance. The sun rose again and its light filled my soul.If you are in a Dark Night of the Soul, please be honest about it with God. Let him reassure you with his presence and bring you into a new morning.
[Spoiler Alert: Darlene Deibler Rose came out of her Dark Night and into a new and wonderful morning. You'll have to read the details for yourself. ]