What do you say to people who say that they have never experienced the presence of God or who don’t believe in God because of all the suffering in the world? People can either be distanced from God because of an experience of suffering or they can be drawn closer to God because of suffering. My wife’s family have experienced a great deal of suffering and their faith in Christ is stronger in spite of it.
John Ortberg, in his book, SOUL KEEPING: Caring for The Most Important Part of You addresses this subject in his last chapter entitled, Dark Night of the Soul. It is worth the price of the book.
The phrase comes from the title of a book written by St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century Spanish monk. It is an account of how God works to change us through confusion, disappointment and loss. It is when we experience the silence of God.
What do we do in the dark night? We do nothing. We wait. We hold on. We ask for help. We do less. We resign from things, we rest more, we stop going to church, we ask somebody else to pray because we can’t. We let go of our need to hurry through it. The Psalms are full of this experience.
When Ortberg went through his dark night of the soul he consulted his mentor Dallas Willard who said, “This will be a test of your joyful confidence in God.” Ortberg comments,
Modern churches with linear models of spiritual growth and large-scale models for devotional life rarely speak of or help people with the dark night. We are uncomfortable with it because we want to do something – because we sell formulas and steps and programs, and the dark night of the soul is not our program. The dark night is for souls that learn to wait.
Frederick W. Faber has written:
In the spiritual life God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are for a time, and He has been for eternity….We must wait for God…He never comes to those who do not wait. He does not go their road. When He comes, go with Him, but go slowly… but silent, very silent, for He is God.