My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Why art Thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
The Christian experience is full of many different experiences. Christian believers experience blessing, praise, favor, victory, and grace as a part of their walk. They also experience rejection, silence, persecution, frustration, misunderstanding, loneliness, and anger. While we hear much about how to handle the good Christians experience and never walk away from God in the good times, we hear little about how to handle the times of the Christian walk that are less than ideal.
It’s a great thing to celebrate the victories of Christianity. We need to remember and recall all the things God has done for us from eternity past to eternity future. At the same time, we also need to learn how to deal with the feelings, circumstances, and periods of time that are less than ideal. We need to know how to deal with the “dark nights of the soul” that will plague every Christian at one point in time or another in their walk with the Lord.
The “dark night of the soul” is a phrase that has been used by many writers and spiritual contemplatives throughout history. It describes a period of time in one’s life when an individual does not understand what is going on, where things are at, what is happening, where they are going…and they don’t seem to hear from God about what to do about it. It’s a period of crying out, seeking, questioning, and longing, with little satisfaction. It is a painful period in the life of the Christian, where the graces of God seem far off, and suffering seems very near.
The period of the dark night of the soul is one of growth and contemplation. If we were to compare it to a season, it would be winter. Even though things appear dead, they are but dormant, waiting to come to full life again. They are resting and seeking within. It is quiet, without much stirring and activity. The cold of the world drives one within, into a hidden place. The dark night of the soul is this season of quiet wisdom, where the coldness of circumstances drives one inward to seek God in a way they would not if things were going well.
The dark night of the soul is a season of waiting and coming to know God in a powerful and profoundly personal way. When things are good, we are so busy celebrating victories, enjoying blessings, and sharing in the revelry with others that sometimes knowing God doesn’t seem as important. In good times, we know God through the gain. In the dark night of the soul, we know God for being God. We seek His face, His answers, His experiences, and His truth to bring us to where we need to be.
But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in Thee: they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. They cried unto Thee, and were delivered: they trusted in Thee, and were not confounded.
A unique feature about the dark night of the soul is its extension beyond one’s own experience. Many Christians today are disconnected from their history. What a tragedy this is! Our history is a source of our power as we overcome both by the blood of the Lamb and our testimony! In the concept of believing God is doing a “new thing,” they forget the experiences of God’s people all throughout history. God’s people have gone through hard times and hard experiences from the very beginning. In their difficulties, they turned to God and God brought them through. If we are able to step back and see the way God has worked for others, recognizing they had trials as well, we too will be able to see God’s ability to work for us and deliver us. Sometimes we are delivered from, sometimes we are delivered through. Seeing how God has kept His promises in the past helps us to recognize how He will keep them unto us today.
But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that He would deliver him: let Him deliver him, seeing He delighted in him.
During the dark night of the soul, the individual is frequently isolated in the midst of others. Just as in the experience of both Job and Jesus, the abandonment is made public. Instead of offering support, they offer mockery. People who once worshipped and prayed alongside now point and taunt, making fun of the faith one has. The dark night of the soul is a lonely time. Others know what we go through, but they don’t understand. They see, but do not delve beyond the surface. In their own discomfort, especially for the course of their own lives, they pretend the dark night is an uncommon and alien experience.
While the taunting is mean-spirited, there is truth in what they say: because we delight in the Lord, He will deliver us. We aren’t delivered from the dark night of the soul, but we are delivered through it. Just as Jesus’ redemption for mankind came through His death, so too God doesn’t simply redeem us from the difficult times we go through. In going through, we bring forth something from within: it unites us to Christ, and gives us the ability to learn about life coming forth through death. For a seed to grow, the seed casing itself must die so it can turn into a plant. For us to grow and become more than we are, we must die to the flesh and adopt the nature of Christ in our lives, putting on His grace. In the dark night of the soul, there is a death: a death to the self. A dying daily, with each step. What is it we are dying to? We are dying to the materialism we seek; the money we pursue; the passions and lusts after everything that is unspiritual and ungodly in our lives. The dark night of the soul takes us away from the pulls and pursuits of this world and draws us deeper to God, in silence, without distraction, and brings us to a new place in Him.
The people who taunt and point simply do not understand, not on any level. Prior to Jesus’ death, Thomas expressed the desire to die without understanding. Jesus told him, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” As we walk through the dark night of the soul, it is a preparation go to somewhere that often those around us are just not able to come. We are being primed, prepared, and purposed for something greater than that which can be seen with the eye. Out of our sorrow will come a great joy that cannot be inherited by those who are unprepared to pay the price for it.
The dark night of the soul reminds us that the things of God come with a price. As inheritors are left conditions to receive an inheritance, so too must we meet God’s conditions, preparedness, and timing to receive. If we don’t go through God’s timing, we cannot receive all He has for us. Wherever we go in the Kingdom, no matter how great the calling, we must go through something to receive it. People who taunt and fail to support don’t understand about receiving the things of God and, most likely, will experience one of two things: an intensely difficult dark night of the soul that will last for a long period of time, or who will simply never reach the necessary maturity to go through, and therefore, will never receive.
But Thou art He that took me out of the womb: Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
Even in the dark night of the soul, we still remember God is our hope. We remember our rearing in His love and truth, and we can recall all He has done for us from a young age. God has always been our God, always will be our God, and will always carry us through whatever it is we need to go through. It is a confidence of trusting God in all things, and thanking Him in all things, not necessarily for all things. As we learn from God in the darkness, learning from Him from within, we learn to see Him work all things together for our good. We understand good is bigger than we are, and deeper and more profound than pleasantries of the flesh. Good is about more than us; it is about God.
Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
Within the dark night of the soul comes a deep awareness of sin and sinfulness. During this time, sin is obvious. A person deep in the dark night of the soul expresses regret for what they have done, aware of the wrongs they have committed to others because of the sins committed toward them. The world may seem a dark and daunting place because the true evidence of sin is everywhere, encompassing, seemingly impossible to overcome. As negative as this may sound, it’s not really a negative place: it is an awareness, an awakening, that points the individual toward God. The individual within the dark night of the soul recognizes the true saving power of God to save. We can’t save ourselves and we cannot overcome without Him.
Sometimes in this world we get very dependent in thinking we need other people. It is true that no man is an island, and that God has created us for relationship with one another. It is also true that sin has created discord, dissonance, and disunity among people. Whether we like to deal with it or not, we have to make choices about people who are in our lives. The awareness of sinfulness that surrounds us sometimes stands as a powerful and intense reminder that it’s a good idea to take inventory of who is around us, who is in our lives, and what influence those people may be having on us. If we step back and can honestly say there is none to help us, why are we surrounding ourselves with such people? Sometimes what we go through is so deeply personal we can’t be helped, but what does it mean to truly step back and say there are none to support what we are going through? It means it’s time to unite with God and allow Him to draw people into our lives who will be supportive, even if they don’t understand. Even during the dark night, they may not get what we go through, but they will still lift us up in prayer, recognizing God is the One Who can truly be of help.
Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and Thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
The use of simile literary comparison gives us a powerful image of the experience of the dark night of the soul. This is especially important for people who have yet to experience this intense period of time. If something can go wrong, it goes wrong. If someone can turn their back, they turn their back. Attacks come from people you would never suspect. It seems as if the whole world is against you. The dark night of the soul can have physical complications as well as emotional and spiritual complications. The dark night of the soul is, overall, a difficult time for the person who goes through it. This clarifies for us the connection between spiritual and natural events: what goes on in the spiritual realm manifests in the natural realm. All the things happening during the dark night of the soul represent spiritual forces and things going on in the spiritual realm.
This is most effectively portrayed in Christ’s death on the cross. It was a time of overwhelming awareness of sin, death, and the consequences for sin. The enemies of Christ and their casual way of rallying for His death represents the forces of death and hell as the enemies of God, working against God and His people. Yet even in Christ, we see the dark night of the soul is not the end. While our enemies may laugh on Friday, we know Sunday is coming, as is a time of overcoming. The dark night of the soul is not permanent, or is it the end. There is victory in going through and reaching the other side. The catch is that we must persevere through the battle to get there.
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. But be not Thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste Thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
I have often described the dark night of the soul – especially as one begins to enter that period in their lives – as feeling like everyone in a person’s life takes little pieces of them and walks off with those pieces, until nothing is left. It feels like friends become enemies and begin to overstep boundaries, encircling the individual, taking away at every point rather than giving. Within the individual who is already seeking the deeper things of life, such picking leads to a piercing, whereby friends passing into enemies attempt to pierce a human being at their points of productivity.
It is by the hands and feet that an individual is able to work, move, and craft. Being pierced in the hands and feet indicates a puncture in the work and movement of a person’s life. It is an attempt on the part of enemies to halt the work of God and the movement of God in a person’s life. It can come under the guise of innocence, such as a comment or a criticism. This “innocent guise” often appears to be a message or word for someone – sometimes from God, sometimes spoken under the appearance of “concern.” The contents of such a message are designed to denounce what a person is doing, to somehow divert them from their direction and head in another one. The words are often in clear contrast to the revelation or purpose a person has already received, making the piercing so wounding in many ways. It is a hurt that, although overcome, changes the relationship as a false prophet comes disguised as a friend.
It’s hard to be displayed before all, especially in a time of questioning, confusion, seeking, and betrayal. We all know people talk, especially when you don’t take their advice or receive their word as divine. They point you out, numbering humanities and faults, especially those they keep hidden just under their veil of judgment and public perfections. The dark night of the soul teaches us to read people: it teaches us who we can trust, who we cannot, who will be there for us on the other side, and who will not. We come out wiser, smarter, faster, ready to fight, ready to move forward, to move from our Good Friday to our triumphant Resurrection Sunday. God alone has the ability to deliver, and God Himself does so, in the midst of our enemies.
I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise Him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel. For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard.
Now in Psalm 22, there is a notable shift. As the dark night of the soul comes, it also ends. As God moves the individual through the process, they come out on the other side. The person who has been through the dark night of the soul has something nobody can take away from them: an assurance of God in all things, a sense of empowered trust. While in it, it feels like it will never end. The searching, seeking, longing for something deeper and more seems to fill the heart, mind, and learning of God in darkness makes the light of God’s day that much more enlightening and awakening. Such a person knows God has brought him or her through, has heard the cry, and has responded. God has brought yet another soul through darkness to the light.
My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear Him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek Him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee. For the Kingdom is the LORD’s: and He is the Governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve Him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this.
Generation after generation, God’s people ‘go through.’ God’s people have lived through turmoil, suffering, persecution, difficulty, emotional pain, loss, grief, and heartache. In the midst of suffering and turmoil, God’s people have a testament generation after generation: He brings them through. He carries them in pain. He holds them in betrayal, and comforts them in loss. Some question where God is when things go wrong; but I have to wonder why people always assume God is absent in those times. He is as close, as caring, as patient, and as deeply there, a part of their lives, no matter what is going on. In the dark night, we learn of Him differently; we draw to Him more powerfully, more intimately. We learn about ourselves, we learn of Him. What we write, what we speak, what we record from these times testifies He is the Lord, He is God, He is great, He is to be praised. He vindicates His people. Those who rely on themselves for gain will one day have nothing, because they do not know the Lord. Yet those who go through the dark night of the soul account to their generation and beyond, praising the bounty of God, and recount to future generations that He is the ultimate promise wherewith we find the resurrection and the life.
© 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved. From, “Thy Word Is A Lamp: Studies In The Book Of Psalms”