The Dark Night of the Soul

By: Nancy Missler; ©2000
This article looks at Joseph, Moses, Abraham, and others who have experienced a dark time of testing and questioning. What did they learn? What can we learn from them?

Loren Sandford has just written a good book on the dark night of the soul and he says, “Scripture shows us a reported pattern in which man receives a call, experiences success, is driven into exile (dark night) and then, finally returns to fulfill his destiny in the Lord.”[1]

A Scriptural Example: Joseph

A perfect Scriptural example of this is Joseph in the Old Testament. He received a call from God; was given special giftings (success); went through a night season of exile; and, eventually was instilled as Prince of Egypt, his true destiny from the Lord. Joseph is one who understood God’s purposes for the night seasons, and had the faith to get through.

The story goes like this: God gave Joseph an incredible dream that contained some mind-boggling promises for the future, yet this dream left his brothers seething with jealousy. After throwing Joseph into a pit, they sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt. Joseph eventually was bought by Potiphar, a high-ranking Egyptian official, whose wife repeatedly tried to seduce the devout young Hebrew. When she finally accused the innocent Joseph of trying to molest her, Potiphar angrily threw the young man into prison, where he remained for years. When he was finally released, as a result of divinely orchestrated circumstances, he had been in bondage for a total of thirteen years!

Questions that naturally come to our mind are: Had God really spoken to Joseph through that dream? What about all those incredible promises? Did God change his mind? Did He abandon Joseph during hose thirteen years in prison? I don’t think so. I don’t believe anything that happened to Joseph was a surprise to God. He knew what Joseph would do and He also knew what He wanted to accomplish through Joseph (i.e., bring the Israelites to Egypt). If you read the Scriptures carefully, many times it says that all who saw Joseph during those thirteen years in prison knew that “God was with him.”[2] Joseph understood God’s will and allowed Him to freely work through him, even in the “night seasons.”

God not only creates the brightness of day, He also creates the darkness of night.[3] Thus, He not only is the Author of our joy and gladness, but He’s also the Author of our night seasons. Too many Christians have chosen to recreate God in their own image. They logically tell themselves, “A loving father would never willingly allow his children to suffer hardship, and neither would a loving heavenly Father!” However, if we put God into a box built by our own human understanding, how will we ever survive the night seasons of our faith? How could Joseph have survived those thirteen years if not for his unwavering faith and belief in the goodness of God?

If we only believe in a God of easy comfort, how can our faith ever withstand the heat of harsh circumstances? Without roots that go deep into the soil, the grass will surely wither. And, the same is true with us. If our faith is not deeply rooted in God’s Love, then we, too, will wither and die during our dark night.

Other Scriptural Examples

As we search the Scriptures, we find that almost every great man or woman of God experienced their own night season or dark night. On the very night God made His eternal covenant with Abraham, the Bible tells us that a “terror and great darkness fell upon him.” (Genesis 15:12 NAS) David, still reeling from the sound of all Jerusalem singing his praises, had to flee to the wilderness and hide inside a cave like a common criminal.[4] Just days after his incredible victory over the prophets of Baal, Elijah hid under a tree and begged God to kill him.[5] After being born a prince of Egypt, God allowed Moses to be stripped of his home, his privileges, his wealth, his power and his pride and made him to dwell 40 years in the desert as a common shepherd. And, even Jesus, with the “hosannas” still ringing in his ears, experienced an agony so intense that it caused him literally to sweat blood.[6]

But after the crucifixion, there came the incredible story of Jesus’ resurrection. And at the end of Moses’ long night season, God ultimately exalted him and gave him the unique privilege of seeing God “face to face.”[7] When God called him from the burning bush, Moses couldn’t even speak without stuttering, yet this was the man God ultimately chose to become His friend.[8] And again Joseph, after thirteen years of learning humility, endurance and overcoming faith, was exalted to a position of incredible authority.[9]

This seems to be God’s pattern over and over again in the lives of His chosen vessels. A dark, emptying-out time and then, a full, infilling time of blessing, where they have the privilege of “seeing” (experiencing) God as never before “…according to all that He promised; there hath not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised.” (l Kings 8:56)

Abraham, David, Elijah and Moses were the kind of men spoken about in Isaiah 50:10, “Who…feareth the Lord [and] obeyeth [His] voice…[but] walketh in darkness, and hath no light.” Yet, because these men went on and, in their night seasons “…trust[ed] in the name of the Lord, and stay[ed] upon [their] God” (verse 11 emphasis added), God was able not only to accomplish His will, but also to fill them with His fulness.

God’s will for each of our lives is not only doing what He asks, but also accepting with praise and thanksgiving all that He allows.

Night Seasons of Other Prominent People

Many theologians and saints throughout history have also experienced and written about their own “night seasons.” You can find this recurring theme in the biographies of Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Francis Schaeffer, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, Oswald Chambers, Augustine, John Wesley, Watchman Nee, Catherine Marshall, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brother Lawrence, Hudson Taylor, Charles Finney, George Fox, William Law, Jesse Penn Lewis, Francois Fenelon and many others.

These men and women eventually learned to “see’’ through the darkness with God’s eyes and, as a result of their faithful endurance, they were able to boldly enter into His presence and find the peace and joy and rest they were looking for. Tozer called it “the ministry of the night” and Spurgeon “a child of light walking in darkness. Oswald Chambers even wrote a poem entitled “Dark Night of the Soul” from his book Abandoned to God:[10]

“Cut it off. My heart is bleeding,
And my spirit’s wrung in pain,
Yet I hear my Jesus pleading,
Cut it off or all is vain.
So I’ve stopped my ears in terror
Lest self-pity make me quail,
Lest at last I take the error
And God’s purpose thwart and fail.
I am bowed to death in sadness,
For the pain is all too great,
But the dear Lord must find pleasure
In the way He maketh straight.”

Listen to how Francois Fenelon (in the 1600s) describes the dark it in his book The Seeking Heart:

God will eventually test you in all areas of your life, but He will not let your trials become greater than you can bear. Let God use trials to help you grow. Do not measure your progress, your strength or what God is doing. His work is not less efficient because what He is doing is invisible. Much of God’s work is done in secret because you would not die to yourself if He always visibly stretched out His hand to save you. God does not transform you on a bed of light, life and grace. His transformation is done on the cross in darkness, poverty and death.[11]

The above believers were honest men like Job. They were praying servants who truly loved the Lord and had compassion for the poor. Like Job, they had a lifestyle of confession and repentance, and had faithfully raised their children in the fear of the Lord. Yet, after a long season of trials and tribulations, many of these men, like Job, would confess that they never really “knew” God. Yes, they had feared, worshiped and honored Him; they had believed in His holiness, His power and His character; they had written books about God; and they had even counseled others. But, at the end of their long dark night, each would admit, like Job, “I [had only] heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth [You].”(Job 42:5 emphasis added)

God longs to replace us with Himself so that we might intimately know and see Him! Not just know about Him from sermons we hear, from books we read, or from songs we sing, but truly experience a oneness with Him that we have never known before—an intimacy that brings us joy and a peace that passes all understanding.

Only “…in Thy presence is fulness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11) This is what the fulness of Christ and the abundant Life is all about.

How Much Do You Trust God?

The bottom line is: How much do you trust God?

We so often sing about His Love and His Mercy, but do we really believe in it and trust in it? A child trusts in the love of his mother, even though she must, at times, discipline him and take him to the doctor for shots. Real love involves trust. When someone really loves and cares for you, you trust that they have your best interests at heart, even if you don’t’always understand their expression of love. God asks us to do the same with Him. He asks us to unconditionally trust in His Love for us, no matter what we see or understand to be happening.

The God of the Bible is a loving and compassionate Father, who will use all the events in our lives to rid us of sin and self so that He might replace us with Himself and, thereby, fill us with His fulness. He continually is stretching and shaping our faith so that we will be able to endure any circumstance that He allows, and so that we will be able to say with absolute conviction, “Though [You] slay me, yet will I trust [You].” This kind of faith overcomes the world and brings with it the peace that passes all understanding.

The classroom that God uses to teach us these lessons is called “the dark night.”

This inward life of the spirit can be gained only by a passionate and consuming love for God. How much do you love Him—enough to surrender everything to Him? This is a question each of us must answer for ourselves. The walk of faith towards experiencing the fulness and the presence of God is not easy. It means not only going through the narrow gate, but also walking along the hard path. [12]

“Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

Do you love God enough to open that narrow gate and go down that hard path?


  1. Burnout, Loren Sandford, page 126.
  2. Genesis 39
  3. Isaiah 45:7
  4. Psalm 42:9
  5. 1 Kings 19:4
  6. Luke 22:44
  7. Exodus 24:15; Deuteronomy 5:22. Moses stayed seven days on the mountain. On the seventh day, God called him. (Exodus 24:16) The Spirit of the Lord was like a devouring fire.
  8. Exodus 33:11
  9. Genesis 50:20
  10. Abandoned to God, Oswald Chambers, page 79.
  11. The Seeking Heart, Francois Fenelon, page 11.
  12. John of the Cross, Wilfrid McGreal, pages 28-30.

1 Comment

  1. Kelli on November 15, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I just went through a darkness of my soul. I wasn’t sure what was happening but this has helped me to better understand its purpose. thank you

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