The Christian spiritual classic, The Dark Night of the Soul, was written nearly five hundred years ago by St. John of the Cross. The basic gist of John’s observation is that God sometimes takes the Christian through dry times of hiding himself from the believer. The pain of wondering where God is; having no answers to prayer; enduring uncaring and misdirected comments from well-meaning people; all these and more are inevitably part of the Christian spiritual experience. The dark night of the soul is not to be confused with personal sinfulness. Its origin is not in self, but God. When one knows that personal integrity is intact, but trouble abounds, we need not immediately rush to the conclusion that something is wrong with us. It may be the Spirit tossing us into a desert experience in order to test and approve our faith.
Job’s “friend” Eliphaz offered one of those age-old arguments that bad things happen to bad people. He asks: “Who that was innocent ever perished? Where were the upright cut off?” His conclusion is: “those who plow iniquity reap the same.” Certainly, Eliphaz thinks, Job cannot possibly go through such terrible suffering without having done something to anger God.
Today the same notions still endure. If I had a quarter for every time I heard comments like these I would be a rich man: “he is poor because he is lazy;” “she has chronic health issues because God is punishing her;” “you are not healed because of your lack of faith;” “they did something evil to be in such trouble;” and on and on the wrong-headed statements continue, ad nauseum.
The Apostle Peter understood how to view trouble in a healthy way: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:17-18). Jesus suffered; so will the Christian. There is a big picture that only God sees. When we suffer, there is something going on behind the spiritual scene. We must allow God to do his work and trust him for all things.
Lord God, I entrust myself to you because you know what you are doing. Thank you for the trials of life which humbles my heart to pray. Do your work in me so that my faith is fortified for a lifetime of service in the church and the world, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.