Dark Night of the Soul

I'm a product of the very best in evangelicalism: converted thirty-two years ago after hearing the Gospel and then taught by great evangelical theologians. I know the strength of evangelicalism in bringing people to an intimate relationship with Jesus -- something often missing in more liturgical traditions. But what do we do when God seems distant? What happens in the dark night of the soul? Well, as many of you have, I found out this year. Soon after finishing my book THE GOOD LIFE, my son Wendell was diagnosed with bone cancer. The operation to remove the tumor took ten hours -- the longest day of my life. Wendell survived, but he's still on chemo. I had barely caught my breath when my precious daughter Emily was diagnosed with melanoma. I was soon back in the hospital, again praying fervently. Two of my three kids with cancer: Where was my good life? Awake at night, I asked God why He was allowing this. Alone, shaken, fearful, I longed for the closeness I had experienced even in the darkest days of prison. An answer came in September. I stood alone on the deck of a friend's home in North Carolina, looking over the spectacular Smokey Mountains rising out of the mist. And I was moved, as I so often am, by the glory of God's creation. It's impossible not to know God as Creator, I realized, for there is no other rational explanation for reality. God cannot not be. It struck me that I need not make sense of the agonies I was given to bear, or hear a clear answer. God is not the creature of my emotions or senses. God is God, the One who created me and in whose care lies my children's destinies and my own. I could cling only to the certainty that He is and He has spoken. I'm not sure the evangelical world prepares us for dark nights like this; I suspect many of us experience them, but are afraid to admit them because people would think we are not spiritually strong enough. At such times, however, we can turn for strength to a rich spiritual tradition probably unfamiliar to most of us -- writings by the saints who endured agonies both physical and spiritual in the centuries past. St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Spanish monk, is one. He was persecuted and thrown into prison, and wrote the classic book THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. He wrote, "O you souls who wish to go on with so much safety and consolation, if you knew how pleasing to God is suffering, and how much it helps in acquiring other good things, you would never seek consolation in anything; but you would rather look upon it as a great happiness to bear the Cross of the Lord." His point is that faith becomes strongest when we are without consolation and walk into the darkness with complete abandon. Faith is not really faith, is it, if we always hear the still voice of God cheering us on? The gift of faith is most real when we trust even when every outward reality tells us there is no reason to do so. In times of trouble, evangelicals need more than the cheerful tunes and easy answers. And we can find it by digging deeply into the Church's treasures to find the reality of what it is like to worship God -- not because of our circumstances, but in spite of them. This year, I've realized that God is not just the friend who takes my hand -- which He does so often -- but the great, majestic Creator who reigns forever.


Chuck Colson


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