This is a very short rough draft introduction and the first few paragraphs of chapter one from a book I am working on called, "The Dark Night of the Soul." Please read it and let me know your honest thoughts. I hope you enjoy this preview.
…the sorrows of one saint are lessons to others; experimental teaching is exceedingly valuable. —C.H. Spurgeon
Disbelief. Hopelessness. Fear. Doubt. Depression. This book does not have enough pages for all of the emotionally descriptive words I want to use. My wife was asleep. My children were asleep. I was awake, sitting on the tile floor with my back against the oven door. Staring across the dimly lit kitchen, I found myself wondering,
Maybe God is asleep too.
I had prayed through tears. I had pleaded with God from a broken heart. Yet there I was, feeling no sense of God’s presence, wondering why I even wasted my words. It was a real problem. Not only for the obvious reasons. It was a crisis of faith and I was grappling with overwhelming darkness. It was also a crisis happening in the heart of a pastor early on a Saturday morning. The next day I would have to stand behind a pulpit and declare the very same promises of God that I, myself, was doubting. It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of preaching to yourself.
It is not that uncommon for a pastor to have this dilemma. It is, sadly, uncommon for pastors to talk about it. There is this expectation that the pastor ought to have it all together. Too many of us have spent our whole lives trying to display this persona. I believe this is detrimental not only to us as individuals, but also to the church as a whole. If the people never see their pastor struggle they may not learn how to struggle themselves. Or worse, they may experience deep discouragement because they seem to struggle so much. The same concept applies to all of us as Christians. We need to see each other struggling so we can be sharpened and encouraged in our own struggles.
The “perfect Christian” image gives a false impression of what the Christian life is like and creates spiritual lepers out of those who are fighting for life in the middle of darkness.
I don’t want to give that impression. I want to be honest. I want to be real. God has brought darkness to my family’s doorstep time and time again. I can attest to the fact that there is a certain kind of darkness that cannot be truly expressed or explained, only felt. I have prayed for a long time that God would lift the darkness, and will continue to do so. But until He does I believe He has me in it for a reason. I believe this book is part of that reason.
So why write this book? About a year ago I preached on a Sunday night on Psalm 88, often called the darkest Psalm. To be honest, I was a little nervous about it, but I felt it was what the Lord had for us so I went with it. The response was eye opening for me. My fear in preaching such a dark passage was that it would be a huge discouragement for everyone. I didn’t want to bring anyone down. What seemed to happen was the opposite. I realized something very important that night. It is that we ought to talk honestly about everything the Bible talks honestly about, and the church is notorious for avoiding talking honestly about the darkness.
So where does that leave those who are clinging to faith with all they have in the middle of their darkest times? They are isolated and alone. This is when they need the Church most! But, to be painfully honest, the church is often the last place they feel like they can go. I can tell you that with confidence because I have personally experienced it. I am writing this book because I cannot help but think there are plenty of other Christians out there who have been there too. But they are burying it deep within themselves so no one else will know.
With all of us burying our pain and suffering we all feel isolated because everyone else seems ok.
Based on that Sunday night experience I have chosen to use Psalm 88 as our guide. We will follow along with Heman the Ezrahite as he wrestles honestly through what seems like the darkest night of his soul. I want to be abundantly clear about my intention here. This book is not intended to be a heavy theological work on the problem of suffering and pain. There are way smarter people than me writing those books. Nor will it be just an antidotal, fluffy book filled with pithy sayings that have no real depth. There are plenty of those too.
This book is meant to be honest. This book is meant to be painful. This book does not follow the perspective of a man on a tower philosophically overlooking the general problems of humanity. This book is written from the outcry of one man, no stranger to darkness, desperately clinging to the God he can no longer seem to see, feel, hear, touch, or experience. Heman does not hide the darkness or sugarcoat it in this Psalm.
There is no shortage of resources on joy, peace, prosperity, and happiness. Those resources are very marketable because everyone wants happy news. I want happy news too, but I also want the truth about the other side of life. If you’ve been on this earth very long you know there is a very real darkness. Not everything is positive and encouraging. In fact, the more you discover about this world, the more you realize the whole thing is corrupted to its core.
The world is broken. We are broken. And our whole life on this earth is spent somewhere in the middle of that brokenness.
What do we do with that? I believe Psalm 88 is the perfect place to go to deal with this reality. So come take a walk with me as we follow our Ezrahite friend through the dark night of the soul.
Chapter 1: God of My Salvation
O Lord, God of my salvation… (Psalm 88:1a, ESV)
At the time I wrote these words I was only entering the second hurricane season I have ever experienced. The first was fun. Though I am thankful we didn’t get a storm that year, there was a brief period of anxiety. Hurricane Dorian was approaching and it was a big one. As a newbie to hurricanes, I was hoping the first would be small. It was an agonizing process. Dorian could not have moved any slower, which just added to the anxiety. My wife and I were constantly trying to decide whether to evacuate or just hunker down. Fortunately for us, but not for others, Dorian ended up shifting at the last minute and missing us entirely.
What we experienced with Dorian was an outside threat that we could avoid if we wanted to. We could have taken a trip back to the Midwest where we grew up or got a hotel room further north. The disaster we see Heman struggling with in Psalm 88 is much different. His hurricane is within and it is wreaking havoc.
Have you ever felt it? It’s that sinking, dying feeling inside. It’s that chaotic tumult trapped within your frame. It’s an enemy that follows you everywhere you go.
There is nowhere to escape these howling winds and crashing waves because they seem to be buried in your very soul. It goes by different names and displays an array of different external symptoms. Some call it depression. Some call it anxiety. Others call it fear, sorrow, agony, bitterness, and more. However, the internal damage is much the same. It seems that all the turmoil inside is tearing away your entire understanding of reality. All of that sense of joy, peace, contentment, and security you once had is now gone. It is the dark night of the soul and, as we are going to see along this journey, it is driven by overwhelmed emotions.
So is there anywhere we can go when the storm follows us within? It is interesting to me that “the darkest Psalm” starts out by answering that question with a resounding, “Yes!”
Heman, the author of our Psalm, will be pouring his heart out to God from a place of deep agony and bitter darkness. Verse after verse the waves of his tormented emotions will crash into the open ears of God. And that is the point. Throughout the Psalm we will have plenty of exposure to this agony and torment, but it is critical to notice that the very first line provides us with hope to carry us through the journey.
Even in the darkest portions of God’s Word we are given light for guidance and a foundation to stand on.
There are three sure places for our feet in this first line. We will look at two of them in this preview.
- The Unchanging Nature of God
The hopeful foundation we are given is found in the character and attributes of God. The lament that covers the majority of this Psalm is expressed from the perspective of human experience. However, the statements that still ground Heman’s words in hope are exclamations of who God is. This is a life changing truth all Christians need to grasp.
Your hope is not to be found in the subjective emotions and experiences of your daily life. It is to be found in the objective truth and reality of God.
This is why David, when he was battling these same emotions, preached to his own soul, “Hope in God” (Psalm 42:5, 11 and 43:5). To any rational person his experience at the time would seem hopeless, but David knew a greater truth. He knew that his experience could not change God, but that he had to filter his experience through the character of God. This approach is the opposite of the world’s reasoning. The world guides us to come to our conclusions about God based on our own experience and observation. This is why so many atheists defend their position with statements like, “If God is so loving then why do some children starve?” In other words, “The presence of starving children puts the love of God on trial.” Of course, as Christians we all dismiss that argument and quickly espouse the love of God despite the presence of suffering in the world.
But notice what tends to happen when suffering enters our own life and things become personal.
We tend to lean into the same mindset of the atheists. We may not say it, but we are thinking it, “If God really loves me then why is He allowing this in my life?” We have put the love of God on trial because of the presence of personal suffering.
We must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2a).” As Christians, the way we think ought to be fundamentally different than the world. However, changing this thought pattern is a hard process sometimes. There are many reasons conversion is referred to as being “reborn.” One of them is this. Up until your conversion all you have ever known is the world’s way of thinking. Beginning from your natural birth you have only ever known judging God by experience and emotion.
This is the world’s system. It attempts to subject God’s truth to human authority through human observation.
When you are converted you must relearn a whole new way of thinking. The Christian recognizes God on the throne. Every conclusion the Christian comes to must begin with the question, “Who is God?” Then the Christian uses the character of God as revealed in Scripture to place his experiences and emotions on trial. Do you see the difference? The character of God is always the ultimate reality through which all other realities must be judged. This is why theology is so important. We should be spending time studying God’s Word, sitting under consistent faithful preaching, reading helpful Christian books, and praying for the Spirit’s help in these things. If we are not practicing these things we are likely to default to the world’s thinking when suffering comes, and that kind of thinking will lead us to some dangerous conclusions for our souls.
God is, was, and always will be the same. Take comfort in knowing the God of your suffering is the same God of your salvation.
2. He Is Lord
The first words of this broken man’s cry draw us to the throne, “O Lord.” How often have we said those words? How often have we addressed God in this way? How often have we done so not realizing what it is we are saying? Heman is recognizing the lordship of God. Notice that for all of Heman’s sorrows he still put God in His rightful place. The previous point had to do with God’s role toward us. He is and always will be who He has revealed Himself to be no matter what is happening in our lives. This point challenges our position toward Him. He is Lord. But do we recognize His lordship in our lives? A.W. Pink said,
He must be God in fact as well as in name.
Words matter. They have consequences. They have meaning. If you have been a Christian very long then you may already notice that “Lord” is a pretty common term in our vocabulary. It is in the worship songs we sing. It is in the verses we read. We liter it throughout our prayers. We hear it thrown around in sermons. Yet it is so much more than just a common word. Many of us think that “Lord” is just a general title we use to address God. We use it in the same way we would use “boss” to describe our superior at work. “Lord” is not who He is. It is just the role He fills. The consequence of this mentality is that we begin to throw “Lord” around as if it has no meaning. In the process of doing this we lose something of the reverence of how we ought to view and approach God.
We’ve seen how easily people can lose their reverence for a title. There are many who would address a president as “Mr. President” while having no respect for the very man they are referring to. They do this simply because that is the appropriate title.
But God is not filling the role of Lord. The Lord is who He is.
Our English Bibles use “Lord” in place of “Adonai” or “Jehovah.” But this is a replacement name as well. The Jews used the pronunciation, Adonai (Jehovah was the Latinized form of this), as a general way to address God so they would not have to use His revealed name, Yahweh. They did this because they were fearful that they may mistakenly use the personal name of God in a less than reverent way (Exodus 20:7, Lev. 24:16). God’s personal name, “Yahweh”, comes from Exodus 3:13-15 where God reveals His name to Moses. It is the Hebrew rendering of the phrase, “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
So what does all of this mean and why is it relevant? Every time you see “Lord” in all caps in your Bible you can read that as “Yahweh” or “I AM.” That is God’s personal name. Not only that, but it is who He is. It is His very nature.
He needs nothing. He has no source. Rather, He is the source for all things. His holiness is so great, His dominion is so far above all things, and His power is so superior to all power that the most accurate description human language can find is the one He gave to us – “I AM.”
When Heman is referring to God as Lord it is more than just a title. It is a recognition that the One he is addressing is absolutely supreme, pure, and holy. He is addressing the ruler and owner of all existence. He is addressing “I AM.” When you address God as Lord, do you realize this is what you are confessing about Him? This has great importance for us just as it did for Heman. This is a sure place for our feet in the middle of sorrows if we would cling to it. Viewing God truly as Lord does two things in the middle of your trouble.
First, it changes your attitude toward your trouble.
Our footing in the area of suffering can tend to be more like a surfer in the middle of a Tsunami. Maybe we can get through one or two small waves of trouble, but then the big waves come and the board is blown out from under our feet. Why? Because the waves are bigger than the board. But imagine your feet firmly planted on a mountain larger than any wave that Tsunami can generate. Your foundation outlives the storm. Therefore, you do as well. If we truly believe that our God is the great “I AM”, the One who far surpasses the storms of life, and the One who breathed out all of creation with the sound of His voice, then we have an unshakeable mountain that laughs in the face of the waves.
Try this. Begin your prayers with confessions of the greatness of God. Don’t say anything about your circumstances until you have done this. It will change your perspective. It may not change your experience. Suffering will always be suffering. But it will give you the strength and ability to endure.
Second, it changes your attitude toward God.
Christopher Ash said it bluntly,
The glory of God is more important than your or my comfort. It matters for the glory of God that there should be a man who worships God because He is worthy of worship, and for no other reason.
This is a hard and challenging word, but it is true. We were created for the glory of God. Strip it all down to the core of your existence and you will find that you were made to worship and glorify God. This means that literally everything in your life and everything about you is designed to glorify Him. Every thought, action, word, and deed is meant to worship Him. Of course, this is easy to grasp when all is sunny and well. But when the night comes and we are in agony of soul it becomes much more difficult.
Once again, this is why conversion is a new birth. The world’s way is to live to our own comfort. God’s way is for us to live to His glory. Heman’s soul is at rock bottom, but he still confesses God as Lord. He still worships in this way. This is what he was made for. This is what we were made for.
If we allow suffering to stop us from worshipping and glorifying God, then we are not just giving up on religion. We are giving up on our very reason for living. You and I were created to worship God. Even in our dark night. Especially in our dark night. It is our very identity and purpose.
Remembering who you are made to be and what you are made for can save your life in the darkness. So cry out with Heman in the middle of the horrors you are facing,
I hope you enjoyed this book preview! This is what I have written so far and I hope to have it finished and published some day. It will be a complete walkthrough of Psalm 88. Thank you for giving it your time!