Wednesday, November 22nd 2017
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Dark Nights of the Soul

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A Couple of Unsolicited Thoughts while Everyone is Talking about Depression…

This week while depression and suicide are consuming so much public and private dialogue, I feel compelled to add one or two grains of sand to the beach of unsolicited thoughts. The first is, quite simply: dark nights of the soul are profoundly real and they are not confined to those who are selfish, foolish, or faithless. Dark nights of the soul are the substance, not the exception, of the Biblical story and they are experienced indiscriminately by the faithful and the foolish, the sinful and the sincerely obedient. I am not here to enter the fray of the current online battles over the cause of deep depression. Is it sin? Is it sickness? Is it DNA or disobedience? Does it require correction or chemicals? I don’t know. I have thoughts, but some of them are probably wrong.

I have had potent seasons of profound depression. Dark nights have sometimes consumed me. And as a pastor I have counseled many others experiencing the same. Do I and they need correction or care or simple comfort? I am not sure. Most likely gracious portions of all of the above. What I do know is that the dark nights are real, not imagined, and often experienced as chains more than choices. I also know that dark nights appear to have driven many of the Biblical heroes of faith into seasons (at least) when it seemed (in the words of Job) that it would have been “better never to have been born.”

This reality is why we of Christian faith often find it easier to relate to and empathize with the honest ache, unmasked sadness, and ironic laughter of a Robin Williams, than with the frequently trite, over-simplistic, even burdensome definitions and solutions of Christian voices and authorities who throw around answers like we aren’t all still trying to figure out the right questions. Our worldview may be greatly different than Mr. Williams but we know how he felt and we too, in our struggles, cringe at the “friendly” fire of over-confident “Christian” theories.

I will regard with weight and respect the dark nights of both those who share my faith and those who do not, as long as it would be possible to spend a year of Sundays in a “Dark Nights of the Soul” sermon series, without ever leaving the Bible.

Where would such a series start and when would it stop, when texts and stories and examples are as abundant as the tears of hurting people:

Dark Nights of the Soul…

When All Visible Joy is Removed: Job      
When People Disappoint Us: Paul, Hosea, etc.
When Fear Rules Us: Peter, Abraham, etc.
When We are Sure We are Alone: Elijah, David, Paul, etc.
When God Himself Blesses Our Enemies: Jonah
When Death seems More Real than Life: Thomas, etc.
When Thorns-in-the-Flesh are Inoperable: Paul
When Our Sin Alienates Us: David,Peter, etc.
When Failure and Rejection is Guaranteed: Jeremiah, the Prophets
When Circumstances of All Kinds Run Us Over: The Psalmists

Of course there’s the whole “No good deed goes unpunished” sub-series on the Dark Nights:

When Faithfulness is Brutally Crushed — you know: Job, Joseph, Daniel, the Prophets, Stephen, Paul, etc. — to say nothing, yet, of Jesus.

Then there are the additional sub-series options like:

When the Prime of Your Life is Lost in Obscurity: Joseph, Moses, Abraham, John the Baptist, etc
When Children Grieve Us: Adam, Abraham, Noah, Isaac, Samuel, David, Solomon, etc.
When Life Doesn’t Get Easier Until You Die: [Where do I start this list when, in the words of Hebrews, so many “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them.”]

And then there is Jesus. Each of the above injustices, abandonments, and trials were His companions. He did not sin nor distrust His heavenly Father; yet in Gethsemane he was utterly wracked by the crushing sacrifice-of-love before him. He pleaded for an alternative, yet with submission. He was mentally, emotionally, and physically broken to the point of blood-like sweating and collapsing paralyzation. He grieved the inattentive, disregard of his sleeping friends. He was indeed “stricken, smitten by God and afflicted…a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

I don’t have many answers. I am not sure I will be free of dark nights in this lifetime. I am grateful for the transparent testimonies of those before me and around me. I know that there are not full solutions that are not centered on the grace and hope of God through Jesus, but I also cannot help but take note, that in the long list of Biblical dark nights above, nearly every crushed soul was offered grace, hope, promises, and a big view of a loving God rather than judgments, ultimatums, or calls to morbid introspection.

So, comfort, care, humility, honesty, tenderness, and tears seem to be where we must start; so that — along the way — we might direct our souls and those of others toward the incomparable hope and happiness of our suffering, victorious, redeeming Savior.