Joyful Confidence in God: The Dark Night of Soul by John Ortberg, from Soul Keeping
When God Seems Silent
Because the soul is the deepest expression of the person, the soul is the place of greatest pain. We do not speak of the dark night of the mind, or the will, or even the spirit; only the soul. The dark night of the soul.
The phrase comes from a brilliant Carmelite monk named John who lived in Spain in the sixteenth century. He devoted his life to reforming the church, but his attempts were heavily criticized, and he ended up in prison. It was there in confinement, with his dreams lost, that he wrote his most famous work: The Dark Night of the Soul. It is an account of how God works to change us not just through joy and light, but through confusion, through disappointment, through loss. Because of his commitment in the midst of suffering, he became known as “St. John of the Cross.”
The dark night of the soul, as he described it, is not simply the experience of suffering. It is suffering in what feels like the silence of God.
This saint who bore the name of the cross of Jesus said that in the early days of spiritual life, the soul often finds delight in devotional activities: We love to read the Bible, we hunger for worship, we long to pray. We may think this is a sign of our maturity; it is really more a kind of honeymoon phase.
“But there will come a time when God will bid them to grow deeper. He will remove the previous consolation of the soul in order to teach it virtue…” In the dark night, my prayers feel like they reach no higher than the ceiling. (Although, Dallas Willard often said, if we truly understand how radically present God is in our world, reaching the ceiling is more than high enough.) In the dark night, the Bible I read turns to ashes. In the dark night, words and books and songs that once spoke to my soul now leave me cold.
It is important to understand that the dark night, as John writes about it, is not the soul’s fault. Of course, it’s possible for me to grow cold toward God because I cling to sin, or prefer an idol, or simply become lazy. These are all real occurrences that require wise response. But they are not the dark night.
The dark night is God-initiated.
There’s an old illustration that was used to teach uninterrupted intimacy with God as the norm for successful spiritual life. It never failed to add guilt to spiritual dryness. It is a picture of intimacy with God that’s as old as bench seats in the front of cars. A husband and wife are driving together. She says to him: “When we were dating, we used to sit next to each other while we drove; you would have your arm around me, I would lay my head on your shoulder, and I felt so loved. Now look at the distance between us.” And the husband replies: “Who moved?”
In the dark night of the soul, it is God who moved.
God may still be in the car. But He’s scrunched up small and pressing hard against the passenger door. I stretch my arm but I can’t reach him or feel Him or touch Him. My soul has not changed seats. God moved.
Waiting in the Dark
The practices that once fed my soul feed it no more. John of the Cross, writing from his prison cell, says in the dark night the soul is pained but not hopeless. “God’s love is not content to leave us in our weakness, and for this reason He takes us into a dark night. He weans us from all of the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness…. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.” We have a hard time with the dark night. Our churches are practical places, and we generally tell people the answer to any spiritual problem is more: more prayer, more serving, more giving, more trying.
But John says just the opposite. When the soul begins to enjoy the benefits of the spiritual life and then has them taken away, it becomes embittered and angry. There are some who become angry at themselves at this point, thinking that their loss of joy is a result of something they have done or have neglected to do. They will fuss and fret and do all they can to recover this consolation. They will strive to become saints in a day. They will make all kinds of resolutions to be more spiritual, but the greater the resolution, the greater the fall.
Their problem is that they lack the patience that waits for whatever God would give them and when God chooses to give. They must learn spiritual meekness, which will come about in the dark night.
What do we do in the dark night?
We do nothing. We wait. We remember that we are not God. We hold on. We ask for help. We do less. We resign from things, we rest more, we stop going to church, we ask somebody else to pray because we can’t. We let go of our need to hurry through it.
You can’t run in the dark.
We love psalms about restoring our souls. They are sometimes called psalms of orientation — psalms that help us direct our lives to God. But there are other psalms. After we learned of Dallas’s diagnosis, my wife delivered a message based on what Walter Brueggemann calls “psalms of disorientation.” These are the psalms where the soul is disoriented; God is absent; darkness is winning. “Break the teeth in their mouths, o God… Let them vanish like water that flows away… like a slug that melts away as it moves along, like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.” That’s one that doesn’t get used at a lot of prayer breakfasts. Eugene Peterson (author of The Message) once wrote that before we can love our enemies, we have to pray our hatred. In these psalms — which are more frequent than the psalms of orientation — Israel vented and boiled over at God, apparently believing He was secure enough to be able to take it.
Nancy talked about an unmarried friend who once punctured the polite piety of a small group Bible study that was having an abstract discussion about “Where is God when it hurts?” With the honesty rarely seen in Bible study groups, she declared, “If Jesus thinks that three hours on a cross makes up for forty-two years of singleness, I think that’s crazy.”
Nancy waited for the group to get swallowed up in a sinkhole. Eventually someone chirped in with a Christian cliché, and the moment passed. But there was more honest faith in that one real comment than all the safe platitudes that came before and after it.
In my own darkest time some years ago, my greatest disappointment was deep and unfixable. I questioned my calling. I didn’t think about suicide, but I definitely thought that if my life were over, I’d be grateful for the end of pain. I would talk to a few close friends, and they would generally give sympathy and support, for which I was grateful.
But then I did what I have so often done when I cannot think or pray or reason my way out of something. I called Dallas. I walked him through the circumstances and the heartbreak and the pain, eager for his answer.
Long pause. “This will be a test of your joyful confidence in God.” Silence. I did not miss the challenge in this sentence, all the more goading for its gentle phrasing. Not just my confidence — my joyful confidence. Human beings around the globe had been suffering a year ago, and I was capable of joy then. Why should I consider my own suffering grounds for a crisis of confidence in God when I don’t react the same way to others?
If there is a God who is worthy to be the Father of Jesus, I can trust giving this situation as well as my own feelings joyfully into His hands. If there is not, I have infinitely bigger problems than a merely human circumstance. Either way it is true: this will be a test of my joyful confidence in God.
Following are some summary points of his video presentation (his website is CrossExamined.org):
Why is there a difference between South Korea and North Korea? The main reason for the difference is POLITICS.
Which country would you rather live in, North or South Korea? Can you preach the gospel in North Korea? No, because of politics.
If you don’t think politics are important, you don’t think the gospel is important. Politically, you can’t do what we do in many countries.
Politics effects what we and the church do every day. Jesus told the religious and political leaders of Israel, “You have neglected the more important matters of the law”. Jesus was not “Mr Rogers”; sometimes He was right in your face saying that you need to change.
Saying not to kill the unborn is not religion, it is morality. All laws legislate morality.
Politics is always the choice of the lesser of two evils because all of us are flawed. How will each candidate govern on the most important matters of the law, the big moral issues?
Without religious freedom, you cannot preach the gospel.
Our country is a mess; who should we blame? THE CHURCH The church hasn’t been the church for at least a hundred years.
Pastors can do a lot more from the pulpit than they think (or at least they could before Joe Biden was elected). Pastors are called to be salt and light not tax exempt. If a pastor is more concerned about money than the future of civilization then he/she ought to just get ought of the ministry.
Are you helping to create a country like South Korea or North Korea? Who will protect life, marriage, and religious freedom if not you, the church?
“The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke That’s what the church has been doing for decades, nothing!
CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION, the cultivation of a psychology of uncritical belief is not an unqualified good, and if carried too far it may be a positive evil. The whole world has been booby-trapped by the devil, and the deadliest trap of all is the religious one. Error never looks so innocent as when it is found in the sanctuary.
One field where harmless-looking but deadly traps appear in great profusion is the field of prayer. There are more sweet notions about prayer than could be contained in a large book, all of them wrong and all highly injurious to the souls of men.
I think of one such false notion that is found often in pleasant places consorting smilingly with other notions of unquestionable orthodoxy. It is that God always answers prayer.
This error appears among the saints as a kind of all-purpose philosophic therapy to prevent any disappointed Christian from suffering too great a shock when it becomes evident to him that his prayer expectations are not being fulfilled. It is explained that God always answers prayer, either by saying Yes or by saying No, or by substituting something else for the desired favor.
Now, it would be hard to invent a neater trick than this to save face for the petitioner whose requests have been rejected for non-obedience. Thus when a prayer is not answered he has but to smile brightly and explain, “God said No.” It is all so very comfortable. His wobbly faith is saved from confusion and his conscience is permitted to lie undisturbed. But I wonder if it is honest.
To receive an answer to prayer as the Bible uses the term and as Christians have understood it historically, two elements must be. present: (1) A clear-cut request made to God for a specific favor. (2) A clear-cut granting of that favor by God in answer to the request. There must be no semantic twisting, no changing of labels, no altering of the map during the journey to help the embarrassed tourist to find himself.
When we go to God with a request that He modify the existing situation for us, that is, that He answer prayer, there are two conditions that we must meet: (1) We must pray in the will of God and (2) we must be on what old-fashioned Christians often call “praying ground”; that is, we must be living lives pleasing to God.
It is futile to beg God to act contrary to His revealed purposes. To pray with confidence the petitioner must be certain that his request falls within the broad will of God for His people.
The second condition is also vitally important. God has not placed Himself under obligation to honor the requests of worldly, carnal or disobedient Christians. He hears and answers the prayers only of those who walk in His way. “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (I John 3:21, 22; John 15:7).
God wants us to pray and He wants to answer our prayers, but He makes our use of prayer as a privilege to commingle with His use of prayer as a discipline. To receive answers to prayer we must meet God’s terms. If we neglect His commandments our petitions will not be honored. He will alter situations only at the request of obedient and humble souls.
The God-always-answers-prayer sophistry leaves the praying man without discipline. By the exercise of this bit of smooth casuistry he ignores the necessity to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, and actually takes God’s flat refusal to answer his prayer as the very answer itself. Of course such a man will not grow in holiness; he will never learn how to wrestle and wait; he will never know correction; he will not hear the voice of God calling him forward; he will never arrive at the place where he is morally and spiritually fit to have his prayers answered. His wrong philosophy has ruined him.
That is why I turn aside to expose the bit of bad theology upon which his bad philosophy is founded. The man who accepts it never knows where he stands; he never knows whether or not he has true faith, for if his request is not granted he avoids the implication by the simple dodge of declaring that God switched the whole thing around and gave him something else. He will not allow himself to shoot at a target, so he cannot tell how good or how bad a marksman he is.
Of certain persons James says plainly: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” From that brief sentence we may learn that God refuses some requests because they who make them are not morally worthy to receive the answer. But this means nothing to the one who has been seduced into the belief that God always answers prayer. When such a man asks and receives not he passes his hand over the hat and comes up with the answer in some other form. One thing he clings to with great tenacity: God never turns anyone away, but invariably grants every request.
The truth is that God always answers the prayer that accords with His will as revealed in the Scriptures, provided the one who prays is obedient and trustful. Further than this we dare not go.
Let’s do a little thinking about modern education — how it’s failed us and what alternatives we have.
So-called “modern” education was already failing students in Sayers’s time (1947), and it certainly is today. That’s why so many people, including Christians, misunderstand facts, or they’re swayed by specious arguments, or they have no idea how to properly express ideas in ways that are coherent and believable. Modern America is rife with the telltale signs of miseducation.
What is a classical education? Classical education advocate Susan Wise Bauer puts it this way: “Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind.
The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study.
In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments.
In high school . . . they learn to express themselves.”
Classical education uses natural developmental stages to train students to discern between true and false facts, understand good and bad arguments, and develop the ability to turn their thoughts into intelligent words. What more could we hope for our kids? It’s the kind of education that prepares men and women for all areas of life. Plumbers, engineers, executives, housewives all will have to sort out facts and arguments and make themselves understood.
Classical education also trains young minds to think holistically about life. Most modern education is compartmentalized. Classical education teaches that astronomy is related to economics is related to philosophy. Truth in this model forms a rational whole, which is at the heart of a coherent worldview.
Now, while Classical education doesn’t have to be Christian, much of it is Christian. And when the classical approach is mixed with Christianity, the result is powerful. Children become men and women who have taken a Christian worldview to heart.
If you have children or grandchildren, let me encourage you to seriously consider classical education. More and more communities have classical schools. Modern education has been failing students and society for decades. We need — and in classical education we have — a better alternative.
Aug 23, 2011 Chuck Colson – Two Minute Warning
You’ve probably got a young child who knows exactly how many miles it is to the planet Mars or that Jupiter has 64 moons. How does he know that? He knows that because young children have an enormous ability to memorize facts. Parents and teachers recognized that as far back as the late Roman empire.
They also saw how what we would today call middle school, they begin to put facts together into arguments and then the process becomes argument. And teenagers have always tried to understand who they are by attempting to express themselves in the same way, it’s part of growing up It’s the process God has built into each of us.
Ancient teachers observed and then built an educational system around human nature. They called it the trivium grama dialectic and rhetoric and it’s making a comeback in the classical and Christian education movement and none too soon because our kids are really struggling.
Test scores are down. Students lack even basic command of history. Reading comprehension is dismal and careful argumentation is an absolutely lost art. Listen to the teenagers and you’ll understand.
Modern education fails students because it mixes up the natural order of learning. We want third graders to express themselves when they ought to be memorizing the multiplication tables and rules of grammar. Then we wait until high school to teach foreign languages when students have lost the desire to memorize. And we allow students of any age to spout opinions on any and every topic without caring whether or not they’re arguments make any sense.Where’d we go wrong?
Writing in the spring issue of the Wilson quarterly, historian Daniel Walker How made the connection between classical education and virtue. Really important. He explained the rise of moral relativism undermined the role of classics in American education ever since the Middle ages. He wrote, a classical education had represented a synthesis of reason and virtue. Citing scholar Karl Richard, How proposes that it was a consequence of declining confidence in human reason and virtue that dimished respect for the ancient writers and and the heroes they celebrate. Moral relativism undercut trust in the standards the classical authors have long embodied. A classical education may therefore provide our younger generations a path back from moral relativism.
1 Peter 3:15 – But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
Why do you believe in God? Ans. That is easy. He has revealed himself trillions of times. Let me ask you a question? Why is there something rather than nothing? … Since there is something rather than nothing, that necessitates the miraculous! How has God revealed himself? Through Creation Rom 1:18– General Revelation – to everyone, everywhere, at all times. Consider this, if you see a painting, you KNOW that requires a painter, a watch, a watchmaker, a creation, a creator. That is clear logic. To deny that is delusional and an example of a depraved, immoral, and rebellious mind. Time permitting, go through more various proofs for God.
Why do you believe the Bible? Ans. First a question – Who can predict the future? NO ONE!
The only thing in all the world that does so with pinpoint accuracy scores of times is the Bible. We know that men penned the Bible so how do you account for prophecy? The only answer can be that someone outside our time/space dimension had to have authored it. Someone who knows the end from the beginning and is ultimately eternal. GOD! Prophecy is God’s sacred seal on his message to us and it is his unique fingerprint proving beyond doubt that scripture is absolutely unique in all the world. A scripture explaining this is 2 Peter 1:20-21 Above all you must understand that no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Have some examples such as Tyre or Jesus.
Scriptures that help seal up both of those questions of God and the Bible:
Rev. 23:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
Isa. 46:9-10 I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning.
Isa. 44:6-8 “This is what the Lord says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come – yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell in long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No there is no other rock; I know not one.
God is giving us the test of how we can tell the only true God from all other claims. PROPHECY
How does one become a “born again” Christian and join the family of God? Simply put – 6 words: CREATION FALL REDEMPTION – BELIEVE REPENT ASK = salvation
I call this the Story of Reality – God’s word to us in his Special Revelation – Genesis to Revelation
I put out this story in 111 word. Modify how you wish, but keep it short and simple so that anyone can remember and tell the story and explain the process of salvation.
THE STORY OF REALITY
In the beginning God
Created The heaves and the earth – Out of Nothing
For Man – Made in his image
And for God’s glory and our pleasure
God gave us free will to choose With one restriction, don’t eat from a tree
We chose badly / consequently Man fell and sin entered the world
All men are now Under a Death Sentence
God works his rescue plan through Jesus, The Scriptures, and the Cross
God Judges Believers and non-believers
God determines Everyone’s Destiny
Our life Quest is Truth, and to live in truth
Jesus is the Truth He offers salvation – eternal life
Our part is Believe, repent, ask him to be LORD
Simply put – Creation – Fall – Redemption Our Part – Believe / Repent / Ask = Salvation
Once that is done, you are forever sealed with God’s Holy Spirit and NOTHING can change that
Once that is done, the first action point of obedience, seemingly without exception in the New Testament, was to get baptized. This was like putting your personal, public, blood oath, seal and signature to an official legal document, announcing you made an irrevocable, covenantal promise to be a follower of Christ through the act of baptism. This act was the public ceremony that showed you were an official member of the family of God with all the rights, privileges, and blessings thereof, such as brotherhood fellowship and the Lord’s supper.
A verse that strengthens this act is Matt 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
Another proof for God. Creation is a physical proof for God, but the idea of perfection is a metaphysical proof. Everyone will tell you they are NOT perfect. But no one seems to grasp the full ramifications of that statement. In order for anyone to make such a statement of comparison, they must first have a concept of perfection to compare it to.
If you were to dig into what a person was trying to tell you by that statement, it would most likely center in on not being perfect in character. That directly translates into a lack of moral perfection that the Bible calls our sin nature.
The Bible succinctly gives a list of moral characteristics in the 10 Commandments which includes lying, stealing, adultery, coveting, blasphemy which everyone intuitively knows is wrong by their own built in morality meter, called a conscience.
Here is the test: Ask someone if they consider themselves a good person. Most people will answer, yes. Then ask them if they are perfect. They now answer, no. What is it they are in fact admitting to? Much of it will have to do with those moral qualities of the 10 Commandments.
Ask them if they have ever lied, stolen, lusted, or used God’s name in vain? That is at the core of their own self-evaluation and admission. If there is no God, then there is no basis for feeling ANY guilt, remorse, or judgement over those issues.
Once again this is strong proof there is a God and the Bible is his authoritive word. When we admit we are not perfect, we in fact are comparing ourselves to the Biblical God, who is in fact is the one and only model of perfection and we intuitively truly know this. All people everywhere, at all times have demonstrated the propensity to worship something outside of themselves.
If there is no place for disobeying the government, that government has been made God. Christ must be the final Lord and not Caesar and not society.
Have we denied what we say we believe by our silence?
Has our preaching of the gospel caused a change in culture, which effective preaching should?
Francis Schaefer’s Christian Manifesto talked mostly about true spirituality. True spirituality means that Christ is the Lord of all our life and not just our religious life. And if we think there is a difference in these things we are denying our Lord his proper place, and regardless of how many butterflies we have in our stomach we are poor spiritually. True spirituality means that Jesus is the Lord of all of life and that includes standing for freedom and many of the other things that are founders stood for.
The LIE of separation of church and state must be smashed.
When a government negates the law of God it abrogates its authority.
At a certain point it is not only the privilege but it is the duty of the Christian to disobey the government. That’s what the founding fathers did when they founded this country, and that’s what the early church did.
Should we be repentant for the silence of the last 80 or so years?
Someone says, ‘My life is so busy I don’t have time to do anything more than a couple hours Sunday morning. God’s purpose for us is worship, so I am so blessed to have all my needs met by meeting with the best worship team in the area on Sunday mornings.” Would you have anything to say and if so, what?
My answer: I believe our main focus should be to know Christ, who He really is, and to make Him and His truths known to others; then help others do the same. If I spend most of my time singing songs to God, how is that making Christ known to those who would rarely, if ever, walk though the doors of my auditorium?
Ron’s answer: Worship is best described in the summary of the 10 Commandments by Jesus to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and with all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is true worship. Therefore worship is a way of life and it’s not something one just does on a Sunday morning. That is far too narrow of an understanding of worship that is a reflection of every day of our lives.
The psalms are known as the hymnbook of the Bible. Working through the Psalms one will find that worship is connected to every part of one’s life and never isolated into one place of worship. Psalm 121 is known as the travelers Psalm and it deals with experiencing God’s strength and presence through all of the ups and downs of life and obviously it includes far more than a Sunday morning or a Sabbath.
The daily picture as noted in Luke 9:23, to come after Jesus we have to take up the cross daily and follow him.That is worship.
Check out John chapter 13- 17 discourse of Jesus before the crucifixion. The Chapters give us an expansive picture of the life of disciples. The picture is clear that it is way beyond Sunday morning. It involves humility, loving one another, love demonstrated by obedience, abiding in the vine, allowing his word to be rooted in us, experiencing friendship with the Lord, experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and on the list goes with the concepts for a true life of a disciple and genuine worship.
Jesus ultimately brings it Together in the high priestly prayer of John 17 in which Jesus prays for himself, the disciples and all of us who would believe on the message. Belief is demonstrated in actions.
These chapters drive home genuine worship involving the Trinity and the community of faith, which goes beyond a Sunday morning window.