(This beautiful piece was written by Rev. Winston Pinzon of Christ our Life Fellowship, F. Benitez Hall, UP Diliman)
The “dark night of the soul” captures the journey of a believer in Christ when he goes through what seems like an unending, unendurable, unbearable lostness from himself, from his fellow human beings, from all the concrete things around him, from the time-honored principles and beliefs he has held, and most of all, from God, whom he thinks he has always known, whom he feels is always with him, whom he believes will act in his behalf with speed according to his prayers. But his image of God begins to crumble as he goes through the darkest of nights. Attendant to this journey are jumbles of deep loneliness, unexplainable fears, lingering anxiety, maddening confusion, persistent bleak thoughts, tasteless and uninspired readings of the Scripture, cycle of ebb and flow of anger, barrage of temptations which are mostly sexual and suicidal in nature, and the most distressing, the utter silence of God. It is a road of death, a valley of lifelessness, a dreadful unlit tight tunnel. He finds there is no way out. He is forced to face himself, examine his malady and rediscover his true identity and destiny. Here too in this condition he begins to get a hint that he barely knows God, and he realizes that God is a stranger whom he must keep on knowing, but not in ways he has been comfortable with.
Imagine the darkness in the souls and spirits of Adam and Eve at that precise moment when they realized they have disobeyed God, and when they were eventually driven out of the Garden. What dread. What pain. What alienation. What fear. What a journey they have to embark on without knowing which place they have to go to. Think of Moses, David, and Paul, who needed to hide from their enemies in the loneliness and danger of the desert or dark caves or concealed corner of a mud house. Think of the Lord Jesus Christ in the desert, alone, weak, and being tempted by the Devil. Think of him during his Passion, especially that period when he is hanging on the cross and he calls on his Father, but the Father doesn’t say a word in order to ease his pain. Think of that specific moment when he finally gives up his Spirit and he is totally separated from the Father and driven into the realm of the dead. Think of the breaking up, the tearing down, the agonizing separation within the Triune Godhead himself. He finds out that God is not a stranger to the dark night of the soul; he himself has gone there and was able to come out into the light of the glory of God in perfect triumph!
Why do we believers go through this from time to time? The only reason God can give is love, his love. The one he loves must go through the process of conversion, of transformation, and the unimaginable context in which this must take place can be likened to three images, namely, desert (the desert of Jesus Christ or John the Baptist, or David), furnace (the furnace in which Daniel and his friends were thrown by king Nebuchadnezzar) and the belly of a fish—most likely a sperm whale (the one in which the prophet Jonah was confined for three days).
The desert is a daunting place. It poses as a threat to life for someone who stays there. It could become a very lonely place to be. There are no things in the desert that are usually found in places that are familiar and comfortable to us. There are no things that we can use at our disposal in order to survive the rigors and challenges of life. No friends to comfort in times of desperation. No malls in which you can find entertainment. No cell sites that can transmit our electronic messages.
The desert is a place of dreadful testing and temptation. We are most vulnerable to temptations when we are journeying in the desert. It is a place for mortification. This is where God invites us to kill the roots of all our sins, our selfish ambitions, our greed, lust, pride, self-righteousness. It is where we are called to surrender our ego and become a “nobody” in order that we may find our true identity and destiny in Jesus. The desert makes acute our appetite for worldly satisfaction. It is here that we are brought to face the greatest tension of our faith. This tension is the pull of the Devil’s seduction and of God’s affection. On one hand we are enticed to a world that offers us more than we can imagine in this world—a world where we could become some kind of a gods or goddesses. On the other hand we are given the eternal satisfaction of having and being with God—the Person who alone can truly satisfy our real need. That need is none other than Himself. The desert then is not a bad place to be. It is where God invites us to be with him alone. But He may invite us also to find Him in a furnace.
The furnace is a place of fire. It is obviously very hot, but it is nevertheless a condition where God invites us to enter. It is a refinery, a place of burning of all that is unnecessary, of all the dross in our hearts. It is a place of great transformation—like wood becoming ash, or gold into its purest quality. In the furnace we are not totally obliterated. We do not disappear. We are transformed into a different person, the kind of persons that God meant us to be. We will not be alone in the furnace because God will be with us. He will accompany us who himself is Fire, Holy Fire. His fire is the fire that sanctifies and transforms us, not kills us. Our difficult situations may be a form of furnace. It is unnerving to say the least. But it is there that the Lord is present with us. His fire will protect us from all other kinds of fires that are designed to destroy us. If the furnace will not work for us he is free to use other ways. One of the ways is the way into the belly of a big fish—the kind that swallowed the prophet Jonah.
The belly of a whale is dark, slimy, stinky, and acidic. We suppose it would feel like a prison cell. There is no light. There is no way out. It is in this condition that God invites us to swallow our own pride, our egoism, our own interests, our selfish agenda, our deep-seated hatred or scorn for other people, our prejudices. It is a place for total surrendering to God. It also serves as a school of prayer. With nowhere else to go to, Jonah learns to look up to God, in such a kind of prison cell, and learns to pray. He rediscovers God and out of this discovery comes out the true prayer of his heart. He has a great encounter with God in this place and he is transformed. It is this transformation that brings him back to his real self and to his vocation.
The desert, the furnace and the belly of the fish are places of conversion, of transformation, of great encounter with God. It is where we are invited to enter in order to find our true selves and the Lord who will not stop from doing anything, no matter how difficult it may be for us, so that we might become like Jesus, his beloved Son, who himself went through all these situations. It is love, the love of God that compels him to bring us to these places of transformation. Nothing else. For how long will we be in such kinds of situations? No one can guarantee. Only God knows. We just have to stay there until he has completed his work in our souls and spirits, and brings us out into a different dimension of the newness of life.