An excerpt from a book I am currently writing, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” This comes from chapter 1:
“O Lord, God of my salvation…” (Psalm 88:1a)
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.
- 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 these 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.
We will deal with numbers 2 and 3 in future posts.