The Dark Night of the Soul

How long, Oh Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me? Psalm 13:1

The author of these words had a complaint about God. He is saying that God has disappeared from his horizon and he does not like it. He is very upset and wants God to come back from wherever He has hidden Himself . Four times in the first 2 verses he asks, “How long?” It seemed his suffering was never going to end.

This particular Psalm is what we call a Psalm of lament. There are many in the Psalms and they were sung by the Hebrew people. No modern hymnal has a section of pieces called “Songs of lament”. The reason is that most Christians today think we never should lament.

Where does the poor Christian go today who has the experience of the Psalmist? God is gone from them, they cannot find Him, and sorrow fills their heart. With all the talk by Christians around them of “full surrender” and so on, people caught up in spiritual depression find nowhere to turn. They feel like Asaph in Psalm 73 where he is very confused about the ways of God and how the rich prosper and the righteous suffer.

Asaph felt he had no one to speak to about his depressed state of mind because all of God’s people around him did not seem to have his experience. They appeared content. So he said, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus’ I would have betrayed your children’” So the poor man had to remain quiet because none of God’s people would have understood.

The title to our meditation today comes from the 16th century when a Carmelite priest called St. John of the Cross wrote a book with this title. The term quickly became popular among Christians who had known the joyful presence of the Lord and then had a profound sense of God withdrawing from them.

A century or so later the remarkable writer and preacher Thomas Watson wrote, “God may forsake His children in regard of vision but not in regard of union.” He and others of his day called such sorrow of soul “desertions”.

Today modern Christianity does not distinguish properly between what is promised and what is experienced by the child of God. Some of the greatest saints of history have felt deserted by God at times. The most remarkable preacher England has ever known gave a sermon entitled, When the Preacher is Downcast. His name was Spurgeon and he could never recall preaching a sermon when people were not brought to faith in Christ.

Yet, for all the blessing on his ministry this wonderful man was plagued by bouts of depression and very painful illness that forced him to take considerable time off from his ministry. In a letter to his congregation from a bed of illness he wrote, “Nights of watching, and days of weeping have been mine, but I hope the cloud is passing.”

The thing the Psalmist does is exactly what all of us should do with our complaints about God. He brings the problem to God. He is openly honest with God, the One who seems to have caused the problem. This is where encouragement begins. Crying out to God and speaking with Him as humbly and honestly as we can.

In a most serious time of pain from his gout when it made him cry out to God, Spurgeon said in his prayer, “You are my Father and I am your child; and You as a Father, are tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as You make me suffer; and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him and put my arms under him to sustain him. Will You hide your face from me, my Father? Will You still lay on me Your heavy hand, and not give me a smile from Your face?”

Spurgeon relates that at that time he experienced a great measure of relief.

Do you need to acknowledge that your spiritual life seems barren? That you cannot find the Lord no matter how you try? That the pain that racks your body seems unbearable? Can you today, pray with an open heart to the God who made you and pour out your complaint? You will not offend God with honesty. Only a proud spirit will keep you from being heard. Come to the Father of mercies and God of all comfort on your own behalf and seek Him until you find Him. He is listening for your prayer right now.

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