It can be disconcerting to live in spiritual darkness with the ‘lights out.” We want to know, understand and be aware of God’s presence. For many years I never understood the reality of “the dark night of the soul.” We read in Psalm 139:11-12, “I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. (NLT)” While I might be in darkness it can be light to the Lord. In Psalm 112:4 we are told, “Even in the darkness light dawns for the upright.”
Michael W. Smith in his new CD has a song entitled, “Light to You.” It has ministered to my heart. Part of the chorus goes like this, “Even the darkness is light to You. It’s hard to believe it but You say it’s true. Even the darkness is light to You.” Also included are the words, “If I made my bed in the depths/if I rise on the wings of the morning/ to the farthest horizon/You’re there/You’ll find me.” Not very often do I hear a contemporary worship song that has such a rich contemplative expression.
By contemplative I mean coming to know and experience God beyond our thoughts, images and feelings, that is, when the lights go out. This is a time of letting go of the familiar ways of knowing Lord as our understanding is darkened. This can be a disorientating learning to trust the Lord in the darkness. Gerald May, a spiritual guide who has helped me greatly has observed, “The dark night of the soul is not an event on passing through and gets beyond, but rather a deep ongoing process that characterizes our spiritual life. In this sense, the dark night is a person’s hidden life in God.”
Men, years ago I read a prediction by a well know theologian, who believed that the Christian of the future would be a mystic. I believe this is coming true. The prophet Amos prophesied, “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11). The mystic or contemplative is one who has learned to trust God, while being lead into the darkness. We don’t need to understand or be in control. In deepening our relationship with the Lord, we are being prepared for the famine of the Word that will plunge our culture into darkness.
William Johnston notes that in the darkness, the soul exclaims, “God was present all the time and I did not recognize Him. I thought it was darkness but it was light. I thought it was nothing but it was all.” Just as too much light from the sun blinds the human eye, so the excessive light of God’s presence can cause us to be in darkness.
Here is some advice from someone who has learned to walk in the darkness for 30 years.
First, if you desire to have a deeper relationship with the Lord, you will be lead into the darkness.
Secondly, don’t fight the darkness, by trying to comprehend what is taking place in your soul
Thirdly, learn to keep your inner gaze upon the Lord. Use a simply word or phrase repeatedly to keep your attention on the Lord
Fourthly, learn to trust the darkness, God is doing work beyond our comprehension
Fifthly, come alongside fellow pilgrims, encouraging them on their journey as they experience “lights out.”