. . . it is a condition that Christians of different ages and denominations have suffered over the centuries. So too, many Old Testament sages such as Jeremiah, the ‘weeping prophet’, Elijah who slipped into depression after his victory over the prophets of Baal, and David who put words to his suffering in his psalms. In fact Jesus, our Lord, was full of sorrow and accustomed to grief.
Theirs was not a neuro-chemical problem, but it is a darkness linked to a crisis of faith. There is a difference between depression and the dark night, where a sense of the absence of God and a feeling of being abandonment by Him, invades the heart.
The dark night of the soul is not something to be avoided or fixed but rather embraced and endured. A strong faith is no guarantee that one can avoid or hold off the experience. Rather a strong faith may be the most appropriate requirement. In God’s wisdom it is where severe grace aims to open up the Christian to new realms of spiritual experience. Its work is to strip us of our futile attempts to find God on our own terms, awakening within us a deeper and simpler desire for intimacy with God.
Although such a time might be dark and difficult it should not lead us to bitterness or despair but faith and endurance. As the apostle Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
Even though the time may be dark and quite profound, it is not permanent. Paul reminds us that we might be afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, maybe, but not despairing; down, but not destroyed. There is a reason for the season, and God will do his transforming work. As Tim Keller reminds us, “Jesus Christ did not suffer so that you would not suffer, but so that when you suffer you might become like him.”
We obviously need to be wise and seek help when we need it, but it is important to know that not all our darkness, grief and sadness is to be avoided. In fact, they may indeed be a moment of God’s grace to us that is to be embraced.
Stephen L Baxter