The Dark Night of the Soul

The dark night of the soul is a phrase used to refer to the period that a Christian experiences mental, emotional or spiritual anguish. This is a time that a Christian goes through a prolonged period of depression that reduces  him or her to the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I thought about this phrase this week when I read in the local papers that the Malawi Police reported that 58 people committed suicide in the month of October alone this year. I also thought about all these souls just before they decided to take their own lives. In their own minds they had reached a point beyond hope. They also felt helpless. They were convinced that their darkness would never turn into light. In despair they resolved to end their lives.   

Now I don’t know whether some of them were believers. But I would not be surprised if I learn that some were because as already pointed out even Christians are not immune to dark nights of the soul. One Old Testament believer experienced and expressed it in Psalm 88. This psalm is one of most depressing expressions of despair in the Bible. The psalmist despairs of life as he experiences pain, betrayal, loneliness, and darkness. Unlike all the other psalms of lament which end with praise or expression of hope in God this Psalms begins and ends with gloom.

The Psalmist laments, “My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength…You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep…my eye grows dim through sorrow” (vv. 3-6). What the psalmist is seeing all around him is darkness and death. He even says it at the end of the psalm that “my companions have become darkness” (v. 18).

The psalmist also feels completely abandoned by God. “But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless” (vv. 13-15). There is no greater agony for the soul and body than to believe that God has forsaken you.

Now, dear Christian, when you go through the dark night of the soul know for sure that you are not alone. Fellow saints before us have gone through similar experiences. More importantly consider Christ who literally went through it too. From Gethsemane sorrows to the three hours of darkness on the Friday afternoon he died (Luke 23:44-49). In the midst of our darkness let’s pray for grace and faith to see the Light of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ. He can never be overcome by darkness no matter how thick it is. But he is also able to sympathize with us having fought and overcome darkness himself as the author of Hebrews testifies, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Apostle Paul further testifies from his own experience that the Lord is able to deliver us from those moments in which we despair of life itself. In 1 Corinthians 2:8-10 he writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” 

Sorrows and dark nights are inevitable for various reasons some which are best known by God alone. But deliverance is also guaranteed for those in Christ. May the Lord help us to never believe that our darkness is thicker than the light of the gospel. If you are experiencing a dark night of the soul, please talk to a fellow faithful Christian or a pastor. Some cases of depression might require medical help, never hesitate to seek one when needed.  

My dear unbelieving friend who is feeling hopeless and helpless. You might even be contemplating suicide. Here is hope! The one and only sure and steady anchor in the storms of this life is Jesus Christ. He calls out to all of us who are wearied down by the sorrows and burdens of this life to come and find rest in him. May you not linger. Please talk to any faithful Christian or pastor near you. You may also contact me via this blog.

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