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The Dark Night of the Soul

20 Aug

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter as much for the past few months, and that the blog posts have been somewhat haphazard (well, to be honest, that’s probably true much of the time!). The truth is that since the beginning of the year I’ve been experiencing what some have called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The metaphor was first used by a Catholic mystic in the 16th century, and is often used to describe a time of great spiritual turmoil. Some believe that Christians should never be down, or depressed. However, most understand that faith has its mountaintops and its valleys. R.C. Sproul has this to say about the issue:

The dark night of the soul. This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time. It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears. It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.” It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him. This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

Spiritual depression is real and can be acute. We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates. We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy. Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness? It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.

I also came across a wonderful sermon that Charles Spurgeon preached on Job 35:10 that he entitled “Songs in the Night.”  His great insight and understand comes from the fact that he himself suffered from severe depression.  Here are some excerpts from that sermon:

Man, too, like the great world in which he lives, must have his night. For it is true that man is like the world around him; he is a little world; he resembles the world in almost every thing; and if the world has its night, so hath man. And many a night do we have—nights of sorrow, nights of persecution, nights of doubt, nights of bewilderment, nights of anxiety, nights of oppression, nights of ignorance—nights of all kinds, which press upon our spirits and terrify our souls. But, blessed be God, the Christian man can say, “My God giveth me songs in the night.”

It is not necessary, I take it, to prove to you that Christian men have nights; for if you are Christians, you will find that you have them, and you will not want any proof, for nights will come quite often enough. I will, therefore, proceed at once to the subject; and I will speak this evening upon songs in the night, their source—God giveth them … their matter—what do we sing about in the night? … their excellence—they are hearty songs, and they are sweet ones … their uses—their benefits to ourselves and others.

I. First, songs in the night—WHO IS THE AUTHOR OF THEM? “God,” says the text, our “Maker:” he “giveth songs in the night.”

Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around him, any man can sing to the praise of a God who gives a plenteous harvest … It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by … Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow upon my path; but put me in a desert, where no flowers are, and wherewith shall I weave a chorus of praise to God? How shall I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me upon the bed of languishing, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires. Give me the bliss of spiritual liberty, and let me mount up to my God, get near the throne, and I will sing, ay, sing as sweet as seraphs; but confine me, fetter my spirit, clip my wings, make me exceeding sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! then it is hard to sing.

It is not in man’s power to sing, when all is adverse. It is not natural to sing in trouble—”Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name:” for that is a daylight song. But it was a divine song which Habakkuk sang, when in the night he said—”Though the fig-tree shall not blossom,” and so on, “yet will I trust in the Lord, and stay myself in the God of Jacob.” Methinks in the Red Sea any man could have made a song like that of Moses—”The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea;” the difficulty would have been, to compose a song before the Red Sea had been divided, and to sing it before Pharaoh’s hosts had been drowned, while yet the darkness of doubt and fear was resting on Israel’s hosts. Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of man…

II. Thus we have dwelt upon the first point. Now the second. WHAT IS GENERALLY THE MATTER CONTAINED IN A SONG IN THE NIGHT? What do we sing about?

Why, I think, when we sing by night, there are three things we sing about. Either we sing about the yesterday that is over, or else about the night itself, or else about the morrow that is to come. Each of these are sweet themes, when God our Maker gives us songs in the night. In the midst of the night the most usual method for Christians is to sing about the day that is over. “Well,” they say, “it is night now, but I can remember when it was daylight. Neither moon nor stars appear at present; but I can remember when I saw the sun. I have no evidence just now; but there was a time when I could say, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ I have my doubts and fears at this present moment; but it is not long since I could say, with full assurance, ‘I know that he shed his blood for me; I know that my Redeemer liveth, and when he shall stand a second time upon the earth, though the worms devour this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God.’ …

Remember, it was not always night with thee: night is a new thing to thee. Once thou hadst a glad heart, a buoyant spirit; once thine eye was full of fire; once thy foot was light; once thou couldst sing for very joy and ecstacy of heart. Well, then, remember that God, who made thee sing yesterday, has not left thee in the night. He is not a daylight God, who can not know his children in darkness; but he loves thee now as much as ever: though he has left thee a little, it is to prove thee, to make thee trust him better, and serve him more…

He who can sing songs in the night, too, proves that he has true love to Christ. It is not love to Christ to praise him while every body else praises him; to walk arm in arm with him when he has the crown on his head is no great deed, I wot; to walk with Christ in rags is something. To believe in Christ when he is shrouded in darkness, to stick hard and fast by the Saviour when all men speak ill of him and forsake him—that is true faith. He who singeth a song to Christ in the night, singeth the best song in all the world; for he singeth from the heart.

I am pleased to report that I am doing much better – there was a time when I don’t think that I could have done much worse!  I still have some moments, but the things that are helping me through it the most are the Word of God and prayer!  Remember, Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  The Bible is God’s precious gift to us, and it helps us to have and increase our faith: “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

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3 Comments

Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Issues, Personal, Theology

 

3 responses to “The Dark Night of the Soul

  1. Connie Brown

    August 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    It is comforting to know that someone as spiritually knowledgable and I am sure has a strong personal relationship with the Lord as you can experience a “dark night of the soul”. When I saw the title of your blog I could hardly believe it. I think I have been there or almost there for a year. I am not a spiritual giant and I have faltered many times in the past year. I have blamed God, questioned if there is a God, does He really care about me, can prayer change anything….on and on the list goes. Do you know a good source, besides the Bible, to read about this “dark
    night” ? Please share with me your struggles, your good times, your bad times……your triumphs, your failures………..as I know it would be an
    encouragement to me.

     
    • pastorbillington

      August 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      I remember reading about a conference where both John Piper and John MacArthur were answering questions. The issue of depression came up, and apparently Piper said that he had struggled with depression off and on for most of his ministry. MacArthur, however, said that he’d never been depressed a day in his life!

      Such is the issue. I suppose that doubt and depression don’t have to go together. Up until this point in time I probably would have said that I have been depressed from time to time, but never had serious doubts. However, this last time was absolutely horrible, and it still nags at me a little bit. And much of it was probably my own fault. I was entirely too focused on the things of this world, and even on my own self. When I came to that realization I was stunned and shamed. And then I wondered why God didn’t do more to fix me! And that’s when the absolute tailspin happened, and I really didn’t feel God’s presence in my life anymore.

      As I get better, I find that I’m being more cautious about everything! What I read, what I watch, what I do. And I’m taking my personal devotions much more seriously again. I had a time in my ministry before where I realized that sermon prep was no substitute for personal time with God, and I have always given mental assent to that since. But you can always find some excuse to not be spiritual.

      Currently I’m watching my diet and exercising, because I do find that there is a connection between the body and the soul. I’ve beefed up my personal devotions and I’m trying to do some additional spiritual activity with Valerie each day. I’m doing my best to fill my mind with good things, and I’m praying to God that He will help me!

      One book that may be of some use is “Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure” by Martin Lloyd Jones. I just went over some notes that I took from the book, and think that it might be worth another read.

      Praying for you Connie. Take care, and God bless.

       
  2. Connie Brown

    August 30, 2011 at 2:54 am

    Thank you so much for your comments. I will certainly try to find the
    book and read it.

     

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