Have you said, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” In the forever sense, certainly He does. But what about all the little – or big – issues we face now? If God’s primary concern were our happiness, wouldn’t things be different? There must be something God wants more than your happiness.
A criticism of young people today is that too many are snowflakes; they don’t know how to handle hardship, discomfort, correction. That’s what being primarily concerned with happiness can lead to. Some parents have made their primary goal to protect their children instead of helping them grow up. A good parent hurts when their children hurt, but knows that preparation for life always involves struggle. Like a caterpillar coming out of its cocoon, struggle is critical for gaining strength. Combine that with loving guidance and a person can become mature.
Some Christians act like God is like a grandparent in the sky who would like nothing better than to be able to say, “A good time was had by all.” (My apologies to many wise grandparents; I have grandkids too!) Even wiser than a parent who says No to a request for ice cream for breakfast, God knows that if He answered every prayer in the way we think we want Him to we would become useless, fat, and lazy Christians completely unfulfilled, childish, powerless.
But even followers of Jesus who have walked with Him for years can struggle. And that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Dark Night of the Soul
Many in Western Christianity have come to perhaps unconsciously believe that following Jesus is supposed to make your life easier, happier, better. If troubles come, it’s from outside sources – people who don’t understand, the devil himself, “stuff.” Joy, peace, love, and a wonderful sense of the presence of God seem beautiful, priceless, invigorating, comforting – and permanent.
But then all that goes away. You’re doing everything right and God still seems distant. Why can’t you hear His voice? Why isn’t He coming through for you?
St. John of the Cross’ poem The Dark Night of the Soul speaks to an experience most serious followers of Jesus go through, perhaps repeatedly for some. There’s a lot of Scriptural basis for the concept. The experiences of Moses, David, Jeremiah, Job, Habakkuk, Paul, and other saints fit this paradigm.
This is not simply human suffering, as heart-rending as that is. It’s not about not having enough money to pay your rent, getting caught in a traffic jam, or having your graduation cancelled. If you’re engaging in known sin, experiencing the consequences of your unwise actions or addictions, or have put God on a shelf until a convenient time, those are different problems. If one of those ideas resonates, run to Jesus and deal with it!
But we’re talking about when a deep and serious follower of Jesus hits the wall. Your soul is a desert and there’s absolutely no light you can see. The foundations on which you believed your relationship with God were based are shaken to their core. Such a season might be triggered by a devastating loss, a chronic or serious trauma, or other disruption, though not always. For some, this COVID-19 pandemic might be a trigger to such a dark night of the soul.
I struggle to find words here. I’ve walked this journey in the past and am not frightened by the comparatively minor aspects of this that the current stress I find myself in brings up. That doesn’t make it easy. But for those of you who may be experiencing such a dark night for the first time, I hope these few words provide a little perspective and even guidance.
What is God Up To?
Like the teacher during a test, God is not absent in a dark night. And He is up to something. He never wastes our sorrows, if we let Him. It may be difficult to see what He’s doing, but He is at work.
I offer three possibilities of what God may be up to in your life if you are experiencing a dark night during this season, three big goals God has for you that may be impossible any other way.
Strip Away our Idols
How easily we confuse the gifts with the Giver! How quickly we become infatuated with the flowers, candy, and courting rituals instead of preparing for an eternal union, becoming ready to be wedded to the God of the Universe forever.
When God gave the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” He was serious. As wonderful as His good gifts are, when they become gods they become dangerous. Even our Christian consumerism can create gods – glitzy Christian conferences, spectator-focused weekly productions, an endless variety of Christian products and services to make your life better in every way. As helpful as these things are, they do not define following Jesus.
And if nothing else, this pandemic has disrobed our idols, even our Christian idols in many instances, and they have been found wanting.
Part of God’s work in the dark night is to tear out your idols by the roots so that the only alternative left is for you to have Him and Him alone on the throne of your heart.
Replace our Deepest Desires
Wanting human validation is not wrong. Hunger for understanding, success, financial security, physical health, and more is part of how God created us. And ultimately we will have all those things. He promised them! (Read Revelation 20, 21)
But if any of those desires eclipse our desire for Him, they become idols. Even the desire for intimacy in marriage can easily become bigger than our desire for intimacy with Him.
The psalmist came to the place where he could say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26
Notice how he says, “my heart may fail.” When both your external world and your internal world reach their end, what’s left is to replace your desires with the only thing that cannot fail – God Himself.
Make Us Useful
Our government puts its best soldiers in the greatest danger behind enemy lines, trusting them even if communication channels become disrupted. Could God be using this dark night to grow you to become that trustworthy?
There’s a degree of maturity that only comes through going through the worst possible circumstances. When you have survived the worst that the world, the flesh, and the devil can throw at you, all fear is gone. That’s the kind of victory Revelation describes when it says, “they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11)
That kind of maturity doesn’t come because you specifically seek it; it only comes because you refuse to quit. Your carbon turns into a diamond only under that kind of pressure.
And that usefulness is not only for this life; it’s also for eternity. Can you even begin to imagine the kind of responsibility God might have available for you in his vast universe when He makes all things new? How tragic if we turn back under pressure now.
You Have a Choice
The dark night is not easy. But you have a choice. Like Job’s wife suggested, you could “curse God and die.” Or you can say like Job did, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.” (Job 13:15)
Don’t waste your sorrows. Don’t let your feelings decide what you do next. Decide to hold on to what you do know, to Who you know, even when you can’t see Him.
And if you do, I promise you the Light will shine again.
Your Turn: Are you facing a dark night in your own journey? Can you imagine God doing any of these things in your own soul? Leave a comment below.
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