The Dark Night of the Soul

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I’ve heard various people state that most Christians, especially maturing Christians, will experience a time of trouble unlike any other, often called the “dark night of the soul.” Yes it will involve a form of suffering, which typically lasts for an extended period of time. But to understand the traditional view of the “dark night of the soul” as famously rendered by St. John of the Cross in the 16th Century, one crucial ingredient is missing.

What makes the dark night of the soul so horrific? It’s not only the suffering or the trials you go through, but during those struggles, you experience the silence of God. Even though you cry out to God, plead for a response during one of the toughest struggles of your life, it’s as if God’s not there.

Silence.

I think all of us would agree with Martin Luther, that German Protestant Reformer who boldly stood before the political and religious rulers to declare he would stand only on the Word of God, who also experienced a dark night of the soul and in the midst of it cried out, “Bless us, Lord, even curse us! But don’t remain silent!”

So what should you do if or when you are in the midst of that “dark night”? Here are a few encouragements to ponder:

  • You are not alone because as mentioned above, this has happened to many others. In fact, some great people of faith have experienced this! Marvel at the incredible people of faith on this list: the great prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, the Apostle Paul, and even Jesus as we see during his prayer at Gethsemane, and modern Christians such as Martin Luther and even Mother Teresa.
  • The silence of God does not mean the absence of God. Numerous theologians have stated this point, and it’s crucial to bear in mind. Our faith is not based on hearing God, but trusting in his Word daily.
  • And lastly, during this agonizing time, obedience is more important than ever! We have a saying at our church: “You don’t have to completely understand to completely obey.” All of the above people would testify to the truth of this statement, but an illustration may be even better. C.S. Lewis in his classic book The Screwtape Letters has the mentor demon Wormwood advising his underling about such a situation:

Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

If or when you find yourself in such a time, may your obedience lead and sustain you during your dark night of the soul, and then the words of 2 Corinthians 5:7 will become more true than ever – “For we walk by faith, not by sight (or sound)”.

RA

Who Are You?

truth-1123020_1280As we continue our study of “Soul Care” this week, and begin reading from Peter Scazzero’s masterful book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I was reminded of the description of Job. Here is what Job 1:1 states according to various translations:

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (NASB)

“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (NLT)

Most other translations do one or the other: they follow the NASB by using nearly identical words, or they summarize those four key traits regarding Job and essentially declare he was a “man of integrity.”

The problem is we need to know what those four traits describing Job really mean! So let’s begin, with the help of Christopher Ash and his great commentary on Job from the Preaching the Word series.

  • When the word “blameless” is used of Job, it doesn’t mean he never sinned, but that he was “genuine” or “authentic” and “sincere.” I love how Ash describes this, quoting an ancient rabbinic tradition – “his ‘within’ was like his ‘without'” (p. 31).
  • The word “upright” tells us more about his integrity, but the emphasis is directed on the way he treats other people. So to be upright is to treat others well, and to be honest with them.
  • Then, Job was a man “fearing God” which stresses that he had a healthy reverence for God and ascribed the proper respect God is due.
  • Lastly he “turned away from evil” or as the NIV states he “shunned evil.”Notice the order of the traits: if one is blameless and upright, fearing God, then such a person must logically turn away from evil. The New Testament will state this same principle another way: “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” (1 John 1:6 NIV). In other words, when one turns to God, they must simultaneously turn their back on evil.

What a description of a person who was healthy emotionally and his spiritual life was integrated into every aspect of who he was. May all of us have this as a goal.

RA

These are Worth Your Time!

Here’s two post I really enjoyed. We’ll probably get to talk about them at some time.

4 Reasons for Suffering

While this is not the final word on suffering and why God allows it to occur in our lives, I do appreciate Pastor Brian Cosby’s insightful excerpt from his book on this subject. I wholeheartedly agree that the American church has lost “a biblical view of suffering.”

Reading v. Entertainment

Although this is  wrapped in a post on parenting, this is a piercing commentary on our culture’s love of entertainment. It reminded me of the French philosopher Pascal and his stinging assessment of humanity’s love of “diversions” (Pascal’s word for entertainment): “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.”

See all my Cadre folks Thursday night!

RA

The State of Your Soul

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As we continue to study the nature of the soul this Thursday night, a few thoughts came to mind. First, I was reminded of Jesus’ words on this subject:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

                                                                                                                   Mark 8:35-37 (NASB)

The soul is hard to describe, but I like how author Dallas Willard defines it in his book Renovation of the Heart:

 “What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, or your thoughts, or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. It is the life-center of the human being.” (Italics mine)

 And what does it mean to “lose” or “forfeit” your soul? Admittedly, most of the time we speak of “losing your soul”, we’re simply thinking of it’s ultimate destination – Hell. Once more, let me quote Willard here:

“We must rethink how we view a lost soul . . . Just someone God is mad at? . . . [There is] considerable confusion on this topic [because it] has resulted from trying to think of being lost in terms of its outcome. Theologically that outcome is hell . . . But the condition of lostness is not the same as the outcome to which it leads. We’re not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.” (Italics mine)

This leads Willard to summarize being lost as:

“To be lost means to be out of place, to be omitted. Something that is lost is something that is not where it is supposed to be, and therefore it is not integrated into the life of the one to whom it belongs and to whom it is lost.”

The first time I read those italicized words, I was stunned: We’re not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.” I realized I needed to stop thinking so much of “lost” as being Hell-bound, and start communicating more clearly of it as a state of being unusable, unable to fulfill one’s intended purpose, and leading to a life of frustration and ruin since one is separated from his/her Creator in this life now, but also in the one to come!

Now that we’ve defined it and described its lost condition, let’s return to Jesus’ thoughts on the soul from Mark 8. Two truths I see here:

  • Jesus states the soul is more important than anything on planet Earth (“for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”)
  • Yet, Jesus states many still try to trade their soul for other things (“For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”)

As I’m sure you’ve recently heard, the Powerball Lottery is expected to approach record levels before the next drawing this Wednesday night – possibly as high as $1.3 billion! Like me, I’m sure you know folks who have exchanged their soul for a lot less than $1.3 billion, or maybe for physical pleasures, or a host of other possible idols. The saddest truth about this is no matter how you try to satisfy a lost soul, it will never find its rest and peace until it is united with God in a vibrant and loving relationship.

As we continue our study of the soul this week, may we truly become good “keepers” of our soul, and also develop an urgency to share with others to evaluate the state of their soul too.

RA