God perceives the imperfections within us, and because of His love for us, urges us to grow up. His love is not content to leave us in our weakness, and for this reason He takes us into a dark night. He weans us from all of the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness. In doing so He is able to take away all these vices and create virtues with us. Through the dark night, pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the Dark Night.
–St. John of the Cross, as quoted in A Beacon in the Darkness
For the past month or so, I’ve found myself in something of a dark night of the soul. I lost my church family, I have been missing a close friend for over a year and a half intensely, I am not fully employed, I am not putting my undergrad degree to work and I’m starting school again. The last point is an encouraging thing, as I’m really enjoying being back in school. However, it is a significant source of stress.
This sort of pain is not to grow me up in God, as the quote above indicates; instead, it is a result of sin. Does God call me to trust Him in the midst of my pain, my depression and my trials? Yes. Does He lead me there in order for me to grow up? I have to say He does not. We are asked periodically in Scripture such questions as “what fellowship does light have with darkness” and told that “in Him, darkness is not stocked…it can’t even be ordered“. Furthermore, such use of a “dark night” is not referenced in Scripture as being an agent of sanctification, not even in the writings of Paul where he expresses his frustration with his dual natures or his frustration with the thorn in his flesh.
This dark night, however, persists. I was hanging out with some dear friends last night and have never in my life felt more alone in a large group of people. I’d even had a great conversation with another guy who is steadily becoming a good friend earlier in the evening. That conversation was an immense encouragement to me…but the encouragement was short-lived. I didn’t enjoy playing the concert last night and I am not particularly looking forward to tonight’s concert either. I have a lot of anxiety about returning to work tomorrow; I haven’t worked for the store in six weeks. I’m very tired on top of all of this.
So where is the Gospel?
I’m not really sure right now. I think, however, that Christ’s dying for me, in my place, makes it so that I can know, regardless of my emotions, that I am God’s and He is mine. I am not removed from His presence simply because I falter in trusting, because even when we are faithless, He remains faithful because He cannot disown Himself.
That is indeed good news!
But for now, I say “amen” to the psalmist in Psalm 88 when he closes his psalm saying that “darkness has become my closest friend.”
In the beginning quote, what defines “dark night”, and should he be referring to suffering and trials instead? And where does it say that God has to take us through a “dark night” for us to grow deep in the spiritual life? Can you talk about what the darkness is to the psalmist in Psalm 88 and contrast that with the beginning quote?
Great questions. The dark night the psalmist talks about is not a dark night God has designed in order to refine them; it is one which results from sinfulness in the world where even his friends shun him. Instead, in St. John of the Cross’ mind, God uses darkness to refine His people INSTEAD OF the light of His holiness.
At such times spiritual life and God are confusing.. but He will always be working for good whatever our circumstances. An encouraging post for me.
I’m glad your seeking Him still in this hard time. Part of me wants to say I hope this dark time is over as soon as possible, but another hopes that God accomplishes a great work in you during this time and you come out better not bitter and more for Him.