I have thought and prayed a lot about writing a book over the last couple of years. I kept feeling that nudge and desire to do it. And I kept feeling as though it needed to be about walking through the darkness as a Christian. Any time I would feel the tug to begin writing, I would ignore it. Who would ever read it? It would take me a long time to write it. I’m probably the wrong guy. But that voice doesn’t go away, “Write, write.” So I am testing the waters. Below you will find a very short, rough draft introduction for the book I am thinking about working on, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Please read it and let me know honestly if this is a book you would want to read.
“…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. Sure, 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. And 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.