As I listened to my husband preach on Sunday morning, I miserably attempted to hold back the flood of mixed emotions that were rushing over the internal dam I had thrown up. I was stunned, reeling from my reflections about myself. I came to the conclusion, undoubtedly with the help of the Spirit, that I had been…of late… scared, frightened, terrified of God.
Suffering and affliction are no strangers to my life. Most of us have, or will, suffer in varying degrees in this broken world. Being in ministry as a pastor’s wife, counseling for many of those years, and personal trials have brought about plenty of circumstances that have led to my own suffering or crises of faith. Yet there have been some things that have been worse than others.
Past Suffering, Future Fears
About 10 years ago, I experienced a year of what some have referred to as a “dark night of the soul.” I was accompanied throughout that ominous year by a dark cloud that would not lift. There was no glaring circumstance to attach my emotions to, which made it confusing.
I did everything I knew to do as a Christian to change my heart. I read my Bible voraciously. I searched my heart often and thoroughly for “hidden sins” that may have brought this on. The hardest part about that year was that I cried out daily, desperately, for God to come to my aid and lift me from the shadows that seemed to overwhelm at times. I felt like I was asking for bread and getting stones, though my faith and the Scriptures told me otherwise.
I knew enough about God and life to know that there was nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to, but Him. I worshipped Sunday after Sunday… in faith. I prayed day after day… in faith. I bent my heart minute by minute toward Him… in faith. Slowly, over time, the darkness lifted, but the affliction changed me forever. My wrestling with God left me with a limp.
I can look back and see God’s wisdom in allowing such a difficult season. It produced profound changes in me that were indispensable, especially as I was called later to walk through dark days with others. But then, everyday seemed a battle to keep moving forward. The possibility of walking through a season like this again terrifies me.
Presently, my family and I are facing something that we all dread. My brother has a life-threatening disease. We have had the privilege of walking through this with him since his diagnosis five years ago at thirty-one-years old. It has been a brutal, yet beautiful, journey to walk together. Last month, a doctor’s appointment threw his situation into NOW. We are at the frightful place we have been trying to prepare for. I find myself feeling panicky and terrified about what may lie ahead.
God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering
Scripture doesn’t hide the fact that bad things do sometimes happen to God’s people by God’s design. Job stands in blazing contradiction to the myth that if you do good, only good will result (or conversely, if you do bad, only bad things happen). Such was the faulty “wisdom” of Job’s “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2). The Bible does not advocate karma. Job was a good guy and bad things happened to him. More convincing, Jesus was the best of the good guys and the worst of the bad things happened to Him. Scripture unflinchingly affirms that in God’s wisdom and sovereignty, He could purposely and wisely ordain the things that we most fear.
To be sure, there are always good purposes in every trial for those who are His. Yes, suffering produces endurance, godly character and hope in His saints (Romans 5:3). Of course, God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). I heartily affirm these precious, anchoring truths. But if I am honest, the things that God might use to bring about this promised good can sometimes frighten me. Would He give me another dark year to sanctify me? Part of my current situation felt frighteningly familiar. Could He take someone from me that l love fiercely? I had to admit I was deeply afraid of what he might allow.
Facing my Heart
With past reflections and future fears swirling chaotic streams of confusion in my heart that Sunday morning, I wrestled with thoughts about God’s goodness and love. My clandestine fears had apparently given way to cruel doubt and unbelief about His character. The words about Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia began ringing in my ears, “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
It took some time to come to terms with, admit, and confess that I had been living in (the wrong sort of) fear of God. I wanted to justify, excuse or deny it. I felt exposed, embarrassed and ashamed of my unbelief concerning His character. Though this revelation was extremely difficult to admit, my honest confession to God that memorable Sunday morning left me feeling liberated, lightened, and loved.
That Sunday sermon ended with the gospel, as it always does with my husband. The stabilizing gospel brought peaceable clarity and resolution to my confused, chaotic heart.
The Suffering Sovereign
Scripture persistently reveals God as the powerful Sovereign One who ordains and oversees all suffering. If He was only portrayed as sovereign, we might be tempted to shrink back from Him in fear. Because He is also shown to be our suffering God who willingly stepped into unthinkable affliction on our behalf, we can be assured of His goodness and move toward Him in love.
Our God understands suffering and loss. At great cost to Himself, Jesus volunteered to empty Himself of heavenly glory to become a humble servant (Philippians 2:6-8). From His love for us, He obediently died the death that we deserved. On the cross, He lost His Father’s tender intimacy in exchange for the fury of His fierce wrath. Jesus was afflicted and forsaken by His Father to ensure that we would never be alone or forsaken in our afflictions.
Likewise, the Father did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all (Romans 8:32). He endured the ache of turning His face away from the Son that He had eternally and perfectly loved so that He would never have to turn his face away from us. Though they both must have felt otherworldly grief, they resolutely chose this death and loss in order to ultimately defeat the suffering that comes from sin, death, and loss for us. What love! When we feel like God is distant, indifferent or uncaring toward us in our suffering, the cross stands as compelling evidence that He is not.
Yes, our sovereign God could wisely allow what we most fear, but our suffering God convinces us of His deep love as we face these things. The powerful hands that uphold all things are the hands that were pierced for us. Seeing again God as God, the suffering, sovereign One freed me from fear…to trust again.
Can you trust Him?
Join the Conversation
How has God used your “dark night of the soul” to nourish deeper trust and faith in your soul?