The Dark Night

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
~ Paul Simon

There is a place in the life of everyone who follows the Man from Galilee that is dark and desolate. A place of confusion. A place of unanswered prayers. A place of sorrow and despair. It goes by many names: crisis of belief, spiritual depression, desolation, wilderness wanderings, the wall, and dark night of the soul.

It can be a place of catastrophic destruction due to a self-inflicted wound like a moral failure. Or you are the victim of someone else’s selfish and sinful choice. It can be a health scare. It can be a hidden addiction that has wormed its way to the surface of your life and no longer stays hidden. It can be professional or relational failure. It can be a growing disillusionment that the life you have built is not fulfilling the deepest longings of your soul.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own, life just kicks you in the teeth and darkness becomes your boon companion.

No one is exempt from this midnight at high noon. No one. Moses went through this place, Elijah did, so did King David. Jeremiah lived in the desert of desolation all his life. John the Baptizer knows this dark place and so did his cousin from Nazareth when he found himself in a garden called Gethsemane.

In reading through Eugene Peterson’s book Tell it Slant, I found a way to be as we travel through our own places of abandonment and desolation. I owe much of this material to Mr. Peterson. We want to escape our spiritual darkness, we want pain relief, but often that doesn’t come. Rather than hitting the escape button or jumping back into the white-water rapids of busyness, I wonder if we would do well to do what Jesus did when faced with his dark night of the soul. I will frequently refer to this place of desolation as “the wall.”

Follow me through the prayers of Jesus when his soul despaired even unto death.

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Matthew 26:39

Jesus prays his way into and through his wall—death on the cross. In the praying, death acquires an unguessed dimension: no longer a dead end but passageway to resurrection, no longer a terminus, but a beginning.

When we pray, we willingly participate in what God is doing, without knowing precisely what God is doing, how God is doing it, or when we will know what is going on—if ever.

Like Jesus, this is a time to pray what we want, not what we ought to want.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34

Walls cut us off from our moorings. Other than death, walls are the ultimate incomprehensibility. I no longer belong. I no longer fit. And I am not given an explanation.

Jesus’ way of dealing with is wall is to walk into the midst of it an let the wall do its deeper work on his soul.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us in chapter 5:8, Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

It is not easy. Nobody said it would be easy. It wasn’t for Jesus.

Praying this fragment prayer reveals the worst that comes to us in a life of belief in God: the experience of absolute abandonment by God.

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

Often, when we go through our wall, those around us will be just as confused at the darkness and uncertainty as we are. Some will want us to snap out of it and be happy. Others will try to fix us with encouraging words and platitudes. Or by giving us unsolicited advice.

Here a posture of grace and mercy is needed. Hessed, lovingkindness, will be needed in large doses. For “Job’s friends” can be relentlessly brutal.

“I thirst.” John 19:28

This is a one-word prayer in Greek: dipso. Think about what Jesus prayed on the cross—sense the abandonment, forgiveness, and relinquishment. And now—pain: the body shutting down, lungs failing, heart failing, kidney’s failing. In Jesus’ wall this leave-taking of his body was experienced as excruciating thirst.

We can never underestimate the impact of the wall or dark night of the soul on our physical state. Pay attention to what your body is saying to you.

It is not unreasonable to ask God for relief from the pain we go through as we pass through our wall.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

This is a prayer of trust. When we pray this prayer, we don’t know what might happen next, but we are releasing ourselves into the care and control of the one who calls us “beloved”.

Jesus prayed this trusting prayer in circumstances that were anything but secure and safe. When you pray this prayer through your wall, picture being in the company of Jesus as he utters it from the cross.

Remember: Jesus was not giving up; he was entering in—entering into the work of salvation. And when we pray this prayer as we go through our wall; we are entering into the work—deep work—of what the wall can accomplish in our souls.

What we can’t know in the midst of the darkness of our soul is that there is life on the other side that is unspeakable and full of glory. There is resurrection morn. There is exaltation, if not in this life, in the life to come.

It is our outcome, it is our destination, it is our birthright as the beloved of God. In the meantime, pray and trust God to remember you.

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, three beautiful daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness.
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