I have had this gnawing within me for a while that those Patriarchs of the faith in centuries past probably knew more about the pursuit of God than most of us today. That is why I found Gary Thomas’ book, Seeking The Face of God, so refreshing and enlightening. Seeking the Face of God is replete with quotes and description of the church fathers (and mothers) down through the centuries that had a burning passion to know God.
At this present time I am preaching a series on Sunday morning entitled, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good Christians?” This series has drawn my mind back to this book and the thoughts of the church fathers. In this book, Thomas has a section that is entitled, “The Journey of the Dark Night.” Thomas rightly points out that most every believer does and must face the dark night of the soul. It can come in varying degrees and in many shapes. Perhaps James description in chapter one is appropriate when he says, “Count it all joy when you encounter various trials….” The word “various” in the original Greek means literally “many shapes and sizes.”
The point is, like gold, we all have dross in our lives that needs to be burned away. Thus, the need for the dark night of the soul. However, when we don’t understand what is happening or when we are led to believe that the loss of religious feeling is evidence that we’ve turned away from God or even that God has turned away from us, this dark night can cause us to become disillusioned or even angry with God. Gleaning the wisdom of some of the ancient ones might help us as we journey through the dark night of the soul.
Thomas points out six things that would be helpful on this journey. Let me name two. (Perhaps I will come back later and address the others.) First, Thomas points out that we must respect the necessity of silence. During the dark night of the soul, Satan will often whisper, “If your heavenly Father really loved you, He would not let you go through this dark night.” But we must understand that God is leading us through a hard but necessary journey and (God’s) silence is a vital aspect of the journey. Here Thomas makes a potent statement: “The truth is, God is simply calling us into maturity. He is preparing us to drive, `Blind,’ without sensual (feelings) support, through the night of faith….His silence, then, is not abandonment or agreement with the accuser’s twisted logic. It is a necessary weaning of sensual support.”
Another understanding that we need to have is that the desert, what Thomas calls the “dry spell,” is what God, the academic dean, plans for our spiritual curriculum. Thomas a` Kempis stated, “If great saints were so dealt with, we that are weak and poor ought not to despair…” Thomas points out that it can be an encouragement to us to know that most Christians have experienced the dark night. We are not abnormal or less committed Christians for going through it. We are simply average Christians going through a normal spiritual process. The confession of other Christians who have faced spiritual barrenness can encourage us and remind us we are not alone.
Additionally, this will help us to recognize that the Christian life is not all about being “high” emotionally. Today, too many Christians live by their emotions and when there is an absence of such emotions, they begin to falter spiritually. In fact, often many run to find some new spiritual experience which works against what God is doing in our souls. I will say more about this in my next blog. Suffice it to say, that the “dark night of the soul” is a necessary passage for most Christians moving them to maturity. In fact, the ancient ones felt that something was wrong if they had not experienced such a dark night. I am convinced that if we Christians are to move past what seems to be a epidemic of shallowness in the Body of Christ today, we must learn to embrace the dark night with faith in a loving God who desires to deepen our faith and bring us to maturity using the dark night of the soul.