SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR THE DARK NIGHT
Shown below is an e-mail conversation between “Caroline” and New Day Monks. This conversation provides some valuable insights in a common difficulty experienced by Evangelical Christians.
NDM: I was interested in your comment that there was something in your latest reading on The Dark Night that you liked but weren’t sure was scriptural.
CAROLINE: I didn’t “like” it, but I did connect with some of it. I could relate to the idea of receiving pleasure from spiritual disciplines and from God when I began my walk with Him. I could see where my vices took on a religious dimension, rather than going away. I could identify with the idea of feeling discontent with the spirituality that God has given me (And, as always, it's hard to weed through "discontent" and "expectations," of which I think mine are generally too high). And I could really connect with the following statement: “in times of desolation, our “stuff” comes out, we are faced with it and we do the craziest things: we work harder, answer our own prayers, despair of working harder, try to get back the loving feelings, resign our self to dry bones, try to fix ourselves, or think that this is no more to the Christian life than what we have experienced.” Now, I have yet to see where these concepts comes from. I have never heard the Bible talking about a dark night. I have never heard the Bible talking about God choosing to ignore His people so that they will appreciate Him more and then have a closer walk with Him, unless they have first forsaken Him. I’m not trying to challenge…I’m just saying I don’t understand where it is coming from, and there is no reassurance of our hearts when our hearts condemn us if something can’t be backed up by scripture. So at best, I don’t find it reassuring. What I do see is plenty about how we have not because we don’t ask in faith or we can’t please God without faith or you will only find God if you seek Him with all your heart, and stuff like that. This leads me to believe that “dark night” could be synonymous with not having enough faith, not seeking God with your whole heart, and etc. I realize you basically said the same thing when you talked about walking with maximum intention and effort. But how can a person ever walk with maximum intention and effort? We can always do better. We can always rely less on our own strength and more on God. There is always hidden fault, even if there isn’t blatant fault through conscientious effort to sin. So when I spend time before God…in silence, in prayer, in reading the word, in whatever…and I feel alone, or I go to God for comfort and I don’t sense His presence or hear His voice; then I am not reassured because it is easy to find fault. And then when I think perhaps I am being impatient or that I am not waiting and trusting or that I am depending too much on myself, and I ask God to speak to me about whether I am failing in that way or else to reassure me that I am not failing in that way, but I hear nothing, then I am really not reassured. Rather, I am just discouraged. And when this seems to be a pattern that I've seen in my walk with God for many years now, I hang on but have no faith that God wants more for me. So I find the dark night stuff interesting but in a skeptical (but not closed) sort of way, and I am eager to know more, but from a biblical perspective that reflects on God—not experience.
1. ” Now, I have yet to see where these concepts comes from. I have never heard the Bible talking about a dark night.”
Of course, the term “dark night” does not appear in the Bible. It was coined by John of the Cross in the 16th century. You can read his books on the subject and see where he gets his ideas, and you can see that he is drawing almost entirely from the Bible. To summarize his teaching is not easy, but in the section below I will attempt to show some of the major Biblical New Testament concepts, that you have been taught in evangelicalism, that he uses to form his system of the dark night.
2. “I have never heard the Bible talking about God choosing to ignore His people so that they will appreciate Him more and then have a closer walk with Him, unless they have first forsaken Him. I’m not trying to challenge…I’m just saying I don’t understand where it is coming from, and there is no reassurance of our hearts when our hearts condemn us if something can’t be backed up by scripture. So at best, I don’t find it reassuring.”
Well, this is a good question. Indeed, if we cannot back up our teaching from scripture then our teaching is not convincing or reassuring. So, let me just say at this point that certainly you must see from the examples of all the great biblical central characters that God did in fact “Choose to ignore them so that they will appreciate Him more and then have a closer walk with Him.” Do you remember the story of Joseph in the old Testament? He was betrayed, abandoned (it seemed), tormented and generally speaking having a “Dark Night” experience. Was it his fault? Didn’t God plan it for his good? Joseph told his brothers at the end of the story that “they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Just review the list of the heroes of the faith and you will see that they pretty much all have a time of feeling alone and abandoned by God.
Now, to find such teaching explicitly spelled out in the New Testament is not easy when you haven’t been trained to see it; but it’s there, and in the section below I will attempt to show it to you.
3. What I do see is plenty about how we have not because we don’t ask in faith or we can’t please God without faith or you will only find God if you seek Him with all your heart, and stuff like that. This leads me to believe that “dark night” could be synonymous with not having enough faith, not seeking God with your whole heart, and etc.
Certainly a person can experience a sense of abandonment and separation from God because they are, in fact, separate from God. If I don’t trust God, or believe that His promises are true, or apply His promises to my situation, or abide in Him because I cannot sense Him, then sure, I will cut myself off from Him. If I deny Him, He will deny me. I must endure in faith even when it is “dark”. Furthermore, yes, I must seek Him with my whole heart. I must loose my life to find it. I must have no other God’s before Him. If I am not loving Him then I cannot say with certainty that “all things work for my good”.
4. “I realize you basically said the same thing when you talked about walking with maximum intention and effort. But how can a person ever walk with maximum intention and effort? We can always do better. We can always rely less on our own strength and more on God. There is always hidden fault, even if there isn’t blatant fault through conscientious effort to sin.”
Now, here is an important point. Really, what you are asking here is this question: “How can I seek God with my whole heart if I am an imperfect person”. You are evidently believing that you must be perfect in comparison to God in order to approach Him. But isn’t that against the whole faith message? No, in fact the actual gospel message is this: we come into His family as His child, by faith, and then we walk with Him in a relationship. Our perfection is relative to our age and maturity. A baby need only “long for the pure milk of the word”, but an older child must be responsible in age appropriate ways. A six year old child may have to clean his room, but he doesn’t need to bring home a paycheck. To say that you are “walking with maximum intention and effort” means that you are doing your best, as your conscience dictates. It doesn’t mean you are perfect or can never grow more mature or have greater commands laid on you later. For example, do you believe you are not praying enough, and that this lack of devotion is what is causing your “dark night”? Well, then, you are going to have to pray more. Or, you are going to have to decide that you do not believe you need to pray more. You can’t go around thinking you are displeasing God and then at the same time try to reassure your heart in the dark times. To try to cover such irresponsibility with an imputed grace will not work. Let’s say that you do increase your prayer time until you think you are praying enough. Let’s say then that a voice says you still need to pray more. You will need to, again, go through the process of deciding if the voice is true or not. You will have to eventually do more or decide that it is not God that is saying “more”. Part of the dark night is the search for your real self. That is, part of the dark night is to surrender your will to God’s will. This is not an easy process, but it is necessary. Only when you can say that you are doing what God wants will you be able to have peace in the dark. Joseph in the Old Testament could properly endure his trials because he believed he was blameless.
5. “There is always hidden fault, even if there isn’t blatant fault through conscientious effort to sin. So when I spend time before God…in silence, in prayer, in reading the word, in whatever…and I feel alone, or I go to God for comfort and I don’t sense His presence or hear His voice; then I am not reassured because it is easy to find fault. “
You are not responsible for hidden fault. “Search me O God and see if there be any hidden fault”. It is your duty to ask, and your duty to admit and remedy what you are shown, but until it is revealed you are not responsible. Talk about unscriptural! Do you know any place in scripture where God holds a seeking person responsible for fault they are unaware of? Do we not deal with a merciful and gracious God?
If you spend time before God…in silence, in prayer or in reading the word…and you feel alone, then the question is this: are you alone or not? If you are not in Christ then, yes, your feeling may be true. But if you are in Him, trusting Him, obeying Him (or at least trying), admitting sin (and really trying to prevent it), believing in His substitutionary sacrifice, THEN, you are not alone.
Likewise, if you go to God with a request, such as for comfort, and you do not hear an answer or feel comforted the question is why not? If you are in Christ, and walking with Him, and walking (as best you can) in the light, and asking for the atonement to cover you when you fail (at your best) THEN, you are not getting the silent treatment because He is not listening, or angry, or not real. You are getting the silent treatment for some reason that you do not understand. Your understanding is in the Dark.
6. “and then when I think perhaps I am being impatient or that I am not waiting and trusting or that I am depending too much on myself, and I ask God to speak to me about whether I am failing in that way or else to reassure me that I am not failing in that way, but I hear nothing, then I am really not reassured. Rather, I am just discouraged.”
Same answer. The only thing you know for sure is that you are not getting an answer. The question still is: why not? If you conclude that Jesus is real, and that you are in Him, and that you cannot hear Him, then you need to process that as a trial. It is a problem, but the problem is not that He does not like you. The problem is that He is not talking in a way you can hear. It is quite fine at a point like this to just say something like this to God: “ok, I can’t hear you, but I want to. But, I still love you, and I will to trust you. I don’t feel trust, or reassurance, or comfort, but I believe you are listening to me right now. So I am going to continue with you, continue to obey you, continue to come to you, continue to ask.” You can tell Him how you feel. You can express negative emotions. You can yell. You can swear. But, you need to stay in faith. You must endure the trial.
7. And when this seems to be a pattern that I've seen in my walk with God for many years now, I hang on but have no faith that God wants more for me.
Well dear, that depends on what you mean by faith. You are hanging on. Why? What do you believe? What are you hanging on for? You have faith.
The main idea in inner healing is that we have life long strongholds that we need to overcome. To overcome a stronghold doesn’t mean it goes away, or that we are delivered quickly and completely. It doesn’t mean that you will not suffer the stronghold once you overcome it. It means that we are changed and healed to the point that it does not rule us. Our walk, our future, our calling and our reward flow from faith and the healed person no longer believes the lies of the stronghold.
So, I think you need experiences with God that will change you and “heal” you. I think that, in the absence of manifest power, a good path is the dark night teaching which allows a person to not misinterpret God’s “silence.”
NEW TESTAMENT BASIS FOR THE DARK NIGHT
Lastly, here are some thoughts on the New Testament basis for the dark night teaching. First, remember from the Biblical Basis for Contemplation (Monkipedia), that 4 main teachings in the New Testament underlie all these pathway teachings:
1. Jesus is the Word of God, and that is a transcendent state, not just a book.
2. God reveals Himself inwardly to His children
3. We have a duty to seek and obey God
4. Direct experience with God is transcendent and beyond the mind.
So, now we will add to these and go further. The New Testament has 3 aspects of the above that underlie Dark Night teaching:
1. Much of the Dark Night Teaching is a mere rewording of the teaching on suffering. If you review suffering, chastening, persecution and breaking you can see that a central concept is that the person suffers confusion, discouragement, a sense of abandonment, a sense of being lost, etc. In other words it is dark. The understanding is dark and we are confused. The will is dark and we don’t know what to do. The affections are dark and we don’t feel God. So what is the New Testament answer? Endure, believe, seek, wait, trust, rejoice. And what is the Dark Night teaching? Same. Wait, persist, seek. When John Coe teaches that we need to go beyond moral reform and gain spiritual reform that is what he means. Take the loneliness, nakedness, powerlessness and shame of your existence to God and be transformed. Seek, wait, trust
2. A large segment of New Testament teaching deals with surrendering the will to the will of God. Or, living for God. Exchanging a carnal life for a spiritual life. Many are called, but few are chosen. In practical terms that means that not all are “chosen” to dedication and service. At least not all will find. Only those that believe and who realize that nothing on earth can compare to God. So, nothing is worth comparing to the wealth in God. Who finds the pearl of great price? Those that give up their life will find it. This sort of radical exchange is a New Testament teaching. In Dark Night teaching this is expressed as going through a dark journey, in faith, to find God. It is risk, to give up everything to find God. It is a test all right. But this time it is a test of God. Is His word true? Then those that give their total heart, mind and strength to His will be answered.
3. God is transcendent. With time He matures His people into transformation. For example, take first Corinthians 2. After first pointing out that evangelism rests on preaching the gospel with signs following, Paul says that “to the mature I teach the deep things of God”. To the mature he teaches the things of the Spirit. God’s spirit teaches the mind and heart of God to the advanced Christian. This is done inwardly, not just in the mind but in the heart. Carefully consider the following passages:
First Corinthians 2:6-16. “But to the mature we do speak wisdom. Not the wisdom of this world, or the wisdom spoken by the princes of this world, which comes to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world was formed. This wisdom is for our glory. None of the princes of this world know this wisdom; if they had known it they would never had crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, or ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared beforehand for them that love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit within him? Likewise, the things of God are not known to any man, but only to the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of this world but the Spirit, which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given us by God. These things we speak, not in words of man’s wisdom, but in words, which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, because they are foolishness to a normal human. A person who is not spiritual cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned. He that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is not judged by anyone. For who has known the mind of the Lord that he can instruct a spiritual person? But we have the mind of Christ.” Is Paul talking about all Christians? Notice in the prayers below that he identifies who he is talking about.
Or, for example 2nd Corinthians 3:18 “But we all with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” “”Glory” is not mental. It is glorious.
Or, Colossians 1: 2-10. “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ, who are at Colosse, Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, ever since we heard of you faith in Jesus and of the love which you have to all the saints…we pray without ceasing and desire that you might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Note that this is for Christians, people who are already born again. They were born again but they didn’t yet have this spiritual experience; so Paul is praying for it.
Or, Colossians 2: 1- 3 “I pray that your hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father and of Christ. In who is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Or, Ephesians 1:2 “YOU who are chosen…predestined…accepted in the beloved…abounding in wisdom…knowing the mystery of His will…having obtained an inheritance…you who trust in God…who believe…who have been sealed with the holy Spirit of promise…I pray for YOU, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. That the eyes of your understanding be enlightened, that you may know the hope of His calling and the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and the exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe.”
Or, John 21-23 “He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me. And he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world’? Jesus answered him and said “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him and we will come in to him and make our home with him.”
So, in the New Testament there is the teaching that the mature can receive God’s spirit, and get to know His thoughts, and experience His glory, and be transformed from glory to glory. This is Union, the goal of the Dark Night. It is certainty. It is power. It is transforming, transfiguring and transcendent. The cost is a faith walk; or as John Coe says, a spiritual transformation, not just a moral transformation.
Now, Caroline, this is scary stuff. But you are not alone. There are more and more people being drawn to a radical, surrendered, transformed, certain, single minded, and proven path of union. I think you are one. Join with some others.
OK, sorry, that this is so mysterious. I’m afraid that I didn’t really make it mysterious, but God Himself did.
CAROLINE: Thank you. This is a very good answer. Some of it sounded familiar (from our brief look at sin in 1 John). I’m sorry for asking the same things, and I appreciate your patience in answering again. I want to think a little more about where I'm getting some of the beliefs that you countered, and then I'll send a bigger response. Some of what you mentioned are pretty persistent beliefs so it would probably be good for me to examine them. Also, with the dark night, I think I've made assumptions (possibly false) that have led me to different conclusions and maybe sloppy thinking. For example, I recognized suffering working (and working for good) in Joseph’s life. But I assumed that Joseph heard from God and sensed His presence through it. He certainly did at least hear God in the interpretation of various peoples dreams. So I guess I concluded that though he suffered great difficulty, much of which was not related to fault, he experienced God through that difficulty. I don't think I've concluded that any of the old testament followers who walked through adversity (not as a result of sin, like Jonah) experienced dryness. Not only do I have nothing really to base that conclusion on, but probably a good study of David would counter that fairly quickly since he shares his thoughts and feelings with us.
NDM: Thanks Caroline. We all have to unlearn what we were taught. We have to study the Bible again, and see that it does indeed reveal and teach that God’s people need to go to Him with their pain and be transformed. I really like your point about David’s psalms; They do give a first hand account of the inner feelings during the Dark Night.
Home : About Us : Monkipedia : Mystic Blog : Writers Club : Triad : Contact Us : Links
© Copyright 2009-2013, New Day Monks; All Rights Reserved. Website by Blue's ArtHouse Graphics & Web Design.