How Do We Feel During the Dark Night of the Spirit?
|By: Nancy Missler; ©2002|
|The feeling that we have been abandoned by the Lord is one of the most difficult emotions that we will encounter during the hard times. But does God ever leave us?|
The distress we feel during the dark night of the spirit is beyond anything that we have ever experienced before. In the past, it always seemed like God protected us, shielded us and guided us. Now we feel like He must be mad at us, because He has completely disappeared. As Job said:
How long will Ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces…? God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with His net.… He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and He hath set darkness in my paths.… He hath stripped me of my glory…. He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath He removed like a tree. (Job 19:2, 6-10)
The feeling that we have been abandoned by the Lord is one of the most difficult emotions that we will encounter in this night. We feel that we have lost His Love and there is absolutely nothing we can to do about it. The reason this occurs is because the work that God is doing is in the realm of our spirit and not our soul (or our senses), therefore, we do not feel or see Him. The truth is that God will never leave us or forsake us, but by withdrawing His presence from our senses, it produces the feeling in us that He has done just that.
Job talks about the suffering he experienced when he thought God had withdrawn His presence. “I cry unto Thee, and Thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and Thou regardest me not. Thou art become cruel to me: with Thy strong hand Thou opposest Thyself against me.” (Job 30:20-21)
And it’s the same with us. Our greatest suffering occurs when we feel God has “wounded” us and then left us and we don’t understand why. It’s as if He has placed a “cloud” (or a veil) over Himself and has withdrawn His presence from us.
As Gideon questioned in Judges, “…if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all His miracles which our fathers told us of?…but now the Lord hath forsaken us…” (6:13)
Abandoned by God
The horror of this night is the fear that real fellowship and real love with God is not something that is ever going to be possible again. Our torment is the feeling that God has become our enemy and that He has wounded us on purpose. As Job said, “Why have You set me as Your enemy?”
One of the worst mental miseries one can ever experience is the feeling that we have opened ourselves up to our Beloved, thinking He will come and heal our grief, but instead He hides Himself, flies away and disappears. It’s the feeling that we have followed God to the edge of a cliff and, at His command, jumped off, only to find He wasn’t there to catch us or to protect us from falling. Instead, He has disappeared; He has gone; He has withdrawn Himself from us. “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.” (Isaiah 54:7)
Remember the Shulamite woman in the Song of Solomon, “My beloved put in His hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for Him. I rose up to open to my beloved…. I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn Himself, and was gone.” (5:4-6)
It seems so cruel to attract us towards a “treasure,” which we value above everything else on earth, only to be turned away from it when we come close. The pain this causes is unbearable. We can handle rejection from man, but once we have known God’s touch in our lives, to feel His rejection is beyond imagining. We have loved Him and walked obediently, yet now we feel lost and so alone.
Job 34:6 talks about an “incurable wound.” This is a wound of love and also a sense of loss. The dark night of the spirit is like suffering the incurable wound.
This must have been the feeling Jesus suffered on the cross. It seemed like at the most important moment of His life, when He needed His Father the most, God abandoned Him and forsook Him. This is when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) As He hung there on the cross, it must have been the darkest night of His Life. He had never really known darkness up until then—the darkness of desertion. This was the culminating point of His anguish and the lowest pit of His misery. Jesus had lived in constant touch with God. He had always known the Father’s conscious presence and His Love. Can you imagine what His sorrow must have been like at God’s absence?
But then, Jesus does something that’s completely opposite to our human nature: He gave Himself completely over to God. “…Into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Jesus surrendered His entire “Self” into His Father’s hands. And this needs to be our response also.
Philippians 3:10 tells us that many of us will experience the fellowship of His suffering, which means that we, too, at some time, might experience the “feeling” of being abandoned and forsaken by God, just as Jesus did on the cross. David in Psalm 88:14 says, “Lord, why castest Thou off my soul? Why hidest Thou Thy face from me?” People often say that grief of mind is harder to bear than any bodily pain, and that spiritual sorrow is the worst of all.
Abandonment must have been exactly what Jesus felt on the cross. It was the necessary consequences of standing in our stead and taking the punishment of sin for all mankind. Even though we might “feel” God’s desertion, the truth is that He will never leave us or forsake us, as He had to His Son on our behalf. Most of us have become so attached to the good feelings we experience when we are “right” with God that when we don’t have those good feelings any more, we become afraid God has left us. The truth is that nothing at all has really changed, God is simply teaching us how to have “naked faith” (faith that doesn’t depend upon feelings), regardless of the absence of spiritual supports.