Those Dark Nights of the Soul

Thomas FactorA couple of Sundays ago, I offered an excerpt from Winkie Pratney’s book The Thomas Factor: Dealing with Doubt. As I’ve been steadily reading it, using it as a devotional, I keep coming across passages that make things so crystal clear, I want everyone to read them. So I have another section of the book to give you today. It’s in a chapter where Pratney is talking about how every Christian experiences, for want of a better phrase, “the dark night of the soul.” What does this mean? He explains:

It is not the darkness of wrong or guilt or demonic oppression. It is not sin; it is instead an inexplicable sense of loss, uncertainty, perplexity. It is above all a withdrawn sense of the presence of God.

Now it is natural to live in His sunshine. We believers don’t have to sing “Don’t Worry–Be Happy.” We take for granted that “in the presence of God is joy and at His right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Yet a lot of heaven’s journey must be made at night.

Happiness is not always the test of holiness. It is possible to be happy and not holy: “As the crackling of thorns underneath a pot, so is the laughter of fools,” said Solomon. “This also is vanity.”

There is a false laughter and an empty lightness of heart that the Bible calls the sin of levity, foolishness, and shallowness in the things of God and life and reality. And this is a characteristic of much of our public popular image today: Christians are often perceived as happy idiots, like people in some asylum, who are happy only because they have lost the ability to live in reality.

But God never designed real life to function in an artificial environment. Without doubt, conversion often takes place with an accompanying jolt of pure joy. In the glow of that first meeting with Christ, you get a taste of an excitement and release that seems as if it will last forever.

Prodigal SonWhen you first get saved you think it will be all music, dancing, and steak on the hoof. You come home like the Prodigal and there is the welcome party. But it doesn’t take long at home before you hear from your elder brother who is getting mad at all the excitement over your return. The party is fun, you get a new set of clothes and a ring; but the morning after the party there’ll be dishes to wash, a room to clean, and a farm to run.

In other words, there are responsibilities in the Christian life that one must carry out, and there will be criticisms one must always face. It’s not all one big party. The key, though, is to remember two things: every Christian goes through the dry times; God is still with us in those times. His love endures forever. The testing of our faith is to see if our love will endure as well.