What is “The Dark Night”?

By: Nancy Missler; ©2001
Nancy Missler talks about those difficult times that every believer faces and suggests a purpose for them. She also gives an example of a “dark night” faced by Jesus, our example.


God’s will for all mankind is that we might come to have a personal and eternal relationship with Him (salvation); God’s will for believers is that we might be “conformed into His image” (sanctification) so that we can enjoy abundant life and the fulness of Christ.

Because God loves us so much, He will do whatever is necessary in each of our lives to accomplish these things. When we willingly allow Him to purge our souls of sin and self, He can then easily accomplish His will. However, when we block and prevent God from doing these things in our lives, either out of ignorance or disobedience, sometimes He takes matters into His own hands, i.e., the night seasons.

The “dark night” (or the “night season”) is simply the transition we make from depending upon our sight and ourselves to a total dependence upon Christ and His faithfulness. It’s a shift into a new way of knowing God. It’s a time where God moves us from simply “feeling good about Him” to a deeper awareness of Him. It’s a period of testing in which our soul and our spirit are cleansed of every shred of self-interest.

Although we already belong to Christ and we already love Him, our union with Him will be incomplete as long as our mind, our judgment, our desires, our habits and our ideas are still our own. God wants to rid us of our preoccupation with sight and feelings, and all our other dependencies (besides Himself), and bring us into a new freedom and liberty of faith. Unfortunately, this freeing process does not happen automatically.

Most of us will not jump for joy when faced with the prospect of brokenness. Most of us “naturally” run the other direction. But God loves us so much that He doesn’t let us get very far. The dark night is God’s way of turning us around and forcing us to allow Him to do whatever is necessary in our lives to purge our souls and purify our spirits so that we can have intimate fellowship with Him. God is not a “mean” guy up in heaven waiting to send us bad things. He is a loving Father who knows exactly what we need in order to accomplish His will in our lives. He knows that we will never be content, never experience real freedom and never be truly fulfilled, until we are “experientially” one with Him.

A Night of Love

I like to call it a “night of love.”

The dark night is a “night of love” because it’s a time in which we come to know and perceive our Beloved in a way we never have before. Our initial surrender to God usually comes before we understand what it really means to totally abandon ourselves to His will, and before we understand that He must not only purge the sin from our souls, but also crucify our own self-centered ways. When we first come to Christ and are “saved,” we are positionally united with Him, but we really don’t know Him intimately.

There is a deeper and more abiding union—an experiential oneness with Him—that He desires for every one of us. This is where we can experience His presence and His joy and rest in the midst of any circumstance. This experiential union does not happen automatically, but only as we become more and more sanctified (holy in body, soul and spirit). In other words, in order to enter into the Holy Place of our hearts where God dwells and enjoy intimacy with Him, we, too, must first become holy as He is holy. Holiness is the only “ticket” inward. God cannot commune and fellowship with anyone who is not holy and sanctified.

As we saw earlier, God often dwells in darkness and covers Himself with darkness (1 Kgs. 8:12; Ps. 18:11). This means that we, too, in our journey inward towards intimacy and experiential oneness with Jesus, can encounter darkness. For us, this “darkness” can simply mean the absence of any understanding or knowledge as to what’s happening to us or where we are going. It simply means being deprived of the light (the seeing, the feeling and the understanding) that we are so used to (Job 10:22). In other words, we’re unable to see through this kind of darkness with our own natural mind. This, of course, is exactly what God intends. He is teaching us to walk by faith and not by feelings or sight. As our faith begins to grow, the light of understanding will also begin to form.

I’m finding this to be so true. The more “faith” I have in Jesus during the dark times, the more I’m able to “see” Him and the more “understanding” He gives me (Ps. 112:4).

This darkness, then, does not come from the enemy, but from God who loves us. God is the One who initiates the darkness. Remember Isaiah 50:10, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light?”

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Satan is often involved when difficult things occur in our lives. And he rejoices when we react poorly to God’s chastening, cleansing and purifying process. What God allows in our lives for good, Satan obviously wants to use to destroy us (Gen. 50:20; Jas. 1:13-14; 1 Pet. 5:8). So, yes, the enemy is definitely involved in the night seasons, but he is not responsible for sending the darkness. It’s simply God’s will towards us.

Jesus Had His Own Dark Night

All throughout the New Testament, we are told that we are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, because He is our example.

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind [attitude].” (1 Pet. 4:1) “For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.” (1 Pet. 2:21)

Jesus is not only our Savior, our Lord and our King, He is also our “role model.” He walked the Christian walk perfectly. He showed us how it should be done. Again, we will never be able to walk it “perfectly” as He did, but Scripture tells us we are to emulate or try to follow Him. If this is true, how can we overlook Jesus’ own dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Jesus is not only our God, He is also our Mentor, our Leader and our Guide, and we must be willing to follow Him wherever He leads. Matthew 26:38 says, “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps.” The way Jesus became perfect, complete or fulfilled (teleioo), is by suffering. If He had to go through suffering and His own dark night, then it’s reasonable that this will be our role also.

In Jesus’ painful night, Scripture tells us that sorrow and deep distress marked His inner spirit and that He actually sweated drops of blood. No one was ever called to greater suffering than this. Mark 14:34 tells us that He exclaimed, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful unto death.…” The magnitude of Jesus’ agony is beyond our understanding. When the revelation of what He was about to do became fully apparent, He fell on His face and prayed, “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus’ life had been bartered for a murderer’s; He had been outwardly despised, rejected, reviled, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, mocked, taunted and now He was to be crucified. He had no heavenly visitation to support Him. No loving heart came forward to help Him. His disciples were asleep. Not one person was true to Him.

Finally, Jesus’ night culminated at the cross of Calvary. As they put Him on the cross, a pall of thick darkness cut Him off and He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) It seemed that at the very moment Jesus needed His Father the most, God had left Him. Matthew 27:50 tells us it was then that Jesus yielded up His Spirit and the temple veil of the Holy of Holies was rent from the top down.

Jesus endured what no man has ever had to endure. But, as a result of the gift of His Life, His blood has atoned for the sins of all mankind. Only Jesus’ faith allowed Him to survive the garden and the cross. His total commitment to His Father—whom Jesus knew was there, even though He could not see or feel Him—is what saved Him. His mission was complete. Because of His death, anyone who accepts His free gift of salvation now has full access to the Father at any time. The result of Jesus’ dark night is eternal Life for all of us.

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 is one of the most incredible chapters in the Bible. It describes this night in perfect detail, although it was written six centuries before Christ lived and translated into Greek three centuries before He walked the shores of Galilee. Isaiah 53 tells us exactly what would happen when the Messiah came. It says He would be despised, rejected, a man of many sorrows, acquainted with grief, wounded, bruised, oppressed, afflicted, cut off—exactly what Jesus had to endure.

It goes on to say in verses 4 to 6 and verse 8:

Surely, He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all…He was taken from prison and from judgment… For He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of My people was He stricken.

Then, in verse 10, Isaiah says something that is absolutely astonishing. “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin…” In other words, out of His infinite Love for us, God used the way of suffering to accomplish His will—salvation for all mankind. God does the same thing with us. He uses the way of suffering to accomplish His will—the sanctification of our body, soul and spirit.

Are you willing to endure a night season so God can accomplish His ultimate purpose through your life? Do you love God that much? Don’t tell me your answer—tell God!

Henry Blackaby suggested in his tape Experiencing God that when we read Isaiah 53, we should ask ourselves, “Am I willing to allow each one of the things that happened to Jesus to occur in my own life?” If we are, then, praise God, He will see to it that eventually we will experience a oneness and a unity with Him that we have never known before. However, if we are not willing to allow these things to happen in our lives (we want our lives to be under our own control), then we’ll have to remain where we are and be deprived of health, fulfillment and intimacy with God the rest of our lives. It’s our choice.

Isaiah 53:7 continues:

He [the Messiah] was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.

This astonishes me, because this is “God” we are talking about here. He was in perfect control the whole time (just as He was in the garden and also at Calvary), and with one word He could have called down all the legions of heaven and struck His oppressors. But, because He loved us so much, He was willing to pay the complete price for our salvation and for our freedom. What an example for us.

Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23 emphasis added)

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