Two Lamps for The Soul’s Night
“I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.”
– Psalm 77:1-3
The “Dark Night of the Soul”
Anyone who has sought to live in dependence on and satisfaction in the Lord for very long has experienced what some people call the “Dark Night of the Soul.” That is, they’ve felt heavy clouds of doubt or fear or anxiety roll in over their hearts and obscure the beauty and brilliance of Christ. They’ve turned their thoughts to the Lord in anticipation and experienced only a terrifying deadness, a cheerless silence, like a childhood home now vacant and in disrepair…they’ve entered the familiar room in their hearts where in the past they’ve communed with and worshiped their Savior, but found it deserted….often with the memories of their past joy adorning their present emptiness with a crushing sense of finality and hopelessness.
“What happened? Where did I go wrong? Will I ever see Him again? Did I ever really know Him?”
Praise God that we are not left to walk through these nights or answer these questions alone. The Psalmists were often plunged into spiritual despair, and we’ve blessedly been given the inspired accounts of their journey through the darkness. While the Psalms offer volumes of wisdom for the sorrowful soul, today I want to look at just two truths to which we can cling when next the darkness descends on our hearts.
My Soul Refuses to Be Comforted
When the night of depression or doubt bleeds across the Christian heart, it often becomes increasingly difficult to “seek” the Lord. The cover of our Bible begins to feel like a leaden weight and its words transform from water to sawdust in our mouths, even a few sentences of prayer might feel like a labor, and the idea of pursuing Christian fellowship or service seems out of the question…..
And then the T.V. starts to seem like an oasis for our embattled mind…aimless web-surfing promises to numb the sharp edges of our spiritual pain…bathing ourselves in the dim artificial light of a hobby helps us forget that our soul’s Sun has been blotted out….Once we’ve begun to walk through the Night, it won’t be long before ten-thousand Pseudo-Comforts present themselves to us. But what does the Psalmist say?
“My soul refuses to be comforted…”
Notice that in verse two he says his hand is stretched out “without wearying.” This implies that nothing has happened for a while. He’s had his hand stretched out to the Lord, his soul has been straining to taste joy again and it hasn’t come. Yet he doesn’t lower his hand. He doesn’t go away. He refuse to make joyless communion with God the norm. This is what is meant by “my soul refuses to be comforted.”
He will not go anywhere else. He will not anesthetize the pain of God’s absence with the world’s comforts. His soul refuses to act as if vibrant fellowship with the Living God is optional, as if gladness in the Lord is something that can be done without, something that enough distraction might mask. Rather, he chooses to wait, to seek, to stretch out His hand in confident anticipation that – in His time – the Lord will draw him up to Himself.
May we – by God’s grace – walk through our Soul Nights in the same way. May our actions not preach that heart-satisfying communion with God is something we can take or leave. Instead, may we face the Lord’s perceived absence the same way a man faces the absence of oxygen in his lungs: fierce, desperate, I’ll-do-whatever-it-takes commitment with the recognition that we will die if we don’t find what we’re looking for.
But, praise God that, for the Christian, the Soul’s Night cannot be the last word. If you are in the Night now (or when you are in the future ) be encouraged in this, the Sun has Risen from His tomb – invincibly, un-thwartably, and eternally – therefore the Night of your soul cannot and will not prevail…
The Worship of Desperation
Sometimes our sense of spiritual darkness is because of a sinful lifestyle or habit or stronghold in our lives. In these situations we’re called to put whatever that might be to death. We can’t expect to walk with the Lord of Light if we are wallowing in the darkness of sin (1 John 1:6).
However, often times our soul’s darkness descends without any connection to an unrepentant sin. What are we to do in these situations? What about when, like the Psalmist, we stretch out our hands and (seemingly) get no response? What about when the hours, the days, the weeks, the months pass by and the divide remains? This is where I (and, I believe, the Psalms) would commend the “worship of desperation.”
There are at least two ways we can show that something is precious to us. The first is by receiving it and rejoicing in it. My brother was just married this last weekend and the joy of his entire demeanor declared to everyone present, “my bride is precious to me!”
But a second way to display the worth of a thing is our response to its absence. The best example of this sort of “worship” was already hinted at above. Think of a man with his head held under water…his lungs begin to protest and burn with the desire for oxygen, his arms start to flail, his body begins to convulse, everything in him is raging to get to the air…..and in that vicious desperation, he proclaims to anyone watching that oxygen is precious to him. In oxygen’s absence, his valuing of it drives him to act in such a way that no one could deny that this man needs oxygen to live. Thus, oxygen is “glorified” in its absence in a way that its presence does not allow.
The Dark Night of the Soul affords us the opportunity for this second sort of worship. Perhaps we cannot shed tears of joy over the scriptures, perhaps our hearts refuse to resonate with that glad song at Church, but we can get on our faces and beg for the Lord’s presence. We can groan in our spirits and cry out for communion like a drowning man strains for air. We can lay hold of scripture, of prayer, of fellow believers and say, “I will not let you go….I will not let you go until I’ve seen Him again.” And in doing so, we are proclaiming – in a way that only the Soul’s Night allows – that our God is precious, He is our oxygen, and His love is better than life itself.
Hope in God.
Clouds are water vapor and the Sun is colossal nuclear fusion generator that could swallow our planet thousands of times over….and yet the Lord sometimes allows clouds to blot out the Sun’s light. This is a parable for us.
Our experiences, the internal workings of our emotions and understanding – even though they are nothing compared to the reality of God’s character – can sometimes blot out the experience of His light from our lives. But just as with atmospheric clouds, spiritual clouds do nothing to the reality and brightness of the Son. God’s character is not distorted when our hearts go dark…His goodness is not diminished because we cannot see it…His love is no less potent because we do not feel it. So, let us hope in Him….
When a cloud covers the Sun, we do not despair because we know the shade is temporary…atmospheric winds will eventually bring back the light. But, Christian, the return of your light was purchased by the blood of your Lord and God Himself. He will not leave you in the dark. Cling to Christ like a life raft in the midst of white waters, and – in His time – you will break out into the crystalline ocean of His manifest presence.