“Impossible as it may seem, it is the unusual privilege of the Christian to be aware of God at all times…You may leave the room where you pray, but you do not have to leave the inner sanctuary deep inside your being”
~John White, “The Fight”
For skeptics, the idea that people can actually hear God speak seems, at best, like a self-gratifying superstition and, at worst, insanity. And yet, for those who are followers of Jesus Christ what is far more disturbing and unnatural are the times when God seems silent. The closest thing that I can think of to this experience is talking on the phone with a loved one when, suddenly, the connection goes dead. The sense of intimacy, the loving back-and-forth dialogue, is abruptly cut off, leaving nothing but silent, dead air in its place.
What do you do in moments when God is silent? This is a question that has been on my mind for the past several weeks. St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic, called these periods of silence “the dark night of the soul”. These periods are often marked by a sense of abandonment by God, a loss of meaning in basic spiritual disciplines (such as prayer), and moments of trial and temptation in which God seems far away.
Recent weeks have left me feeling much of what St. John describes. Though I have created space and time for prayer, the familiar intimacy and dialogue that I have experienced with God in the past is missing. In fact, this past week I spent a good part of a day in prayer, only to hear nothing in response. While I would not qualify this season as intensely as a “dark night of the soul” experience, it has definitely left me with some questions.
Perhaps the biggest of these is, “Where is God?” It has been tempting to default to despair over this time of spiritual drought. But what has provided the greatest comfort have been the “streams of water in the desert” that keep cropping up. Though, on a subjective level, it feels like God is absent, there are plenty of objective ways that he has shown up in the past month. I see him in my fundraising through the connections that I have been making with new donors. I see him in the times of relational intimacy that I have had with my wife and loved ones. I see him in the ways that he is moving in the lives of the students in the chapter as the summer has progressed. God is still at work, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Perhaps the greatest source of hope that I have in these moments are the words of Christ himself. While on the cross Jesus encountered his own “dark night of the soul” when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In that moment of agony, God the Father seemed very far away. And yet, we know that in that moment God was doing the greatest work of all. St. Paul tells us that, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). In a moment when it seemed like God was most absent, we learn that God was bringing about our salvation. In a moment when it seemed like all hope was lost, God was opening the door of heaven to us, inviting us to experience the only hope that lasts: eternal life through his Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
So, though this time of silence continues, I have hope. I have hope that God is at work, even though I may not see it now. I have hope that on the other side of the silence is a greater life of intimacy and fellowship with my God and Savior. This hope inspires me to press on in faith. It encourages me to continue to work hard, pray without ceasing, and trust in a God who does not disappoint us. It is my prayer that this hope will be with each of us, in both the days and the nights which lie ahead. To God be the glory.