When God Walks Off the Stage

July 8, 2014

A Christian in the sixteenth century coined the term the dark night of the soul. This phrase refers to an experience when God removes the “sense” of His presence from a believer’s life. Some Christians believe that the “dark night” is an exotically rare experience that few people have. Others believe it’s much more common. I tend to be in the camp that believes it’s rare.

The dark night is when God tosses out the moral compass from a believer’s life. The Christian feels as though God does not exist. It’s neither a dry spell nor a trial. Instead, it feels as though God has left. The inner consciousness of the Lord’s presence is swept away without warning and only a blind reliance on past faith saves the Christian from becoming an atheist. This is not the consequence of sin or rebellion. In fact, it has nothing to do with the believer’s conduct at all.

Here are the words of a person who is experiencing the dark night: “I feel like a non-Christian. He’s just not there anymore. I never noticed His presence until it left me. Now I long for it again. I feel like the ground under me has been ripped away. My joy is gone. I feel out of control. My spiritual feelings are dull. I’ve lost interest and affection for God. When I try to speak to Him, it feels like I’m talking to myself or to the ceiling. Prayer once came easy; I talked to the Lord all the time. Now it’s forced. It feels like there’s a big wall between me and God. My love for the Lord has been replaced by a blank. I never knew what God’s presence felt like until it was removed from me. I cry a lot now. I want Him to return to me again.”

Some have called the dark night “a game of love” where God plays hide-and-seek. Others view it as a sign of spiritual maturity and development where God is removing the training wheels. In such cases, the Lord is teaching His children how to know Him apart from feelings. He’s seeking to show them a new way of relating to Him—one that is more mature and doesn’t rely on anything but faith.

If, perchance, you’re going through this mysterious experience right now, the one piece of advice I can give you is this: Keep in mind that the dark night is simply a crisis and pathway to greater spiritual maturity. God is still with you. In fact, He’s behind this experience. The overarching purpose is redemptive and constructive. I will not expound on the dark night beyond the above except to illustrate one point. Let’s return to our nose analogy. During the course of the day, you are virtually unconscious of the presence of your nose. The exception is when you have a sniffle, a nose itch, a nosebleed, or when you look in the mirror. But if you were to have surgery and your nose was removed, you would certainly be conscious that something essential was missing. And that consciousness would remain for quite a long time.

Point: There is something that I call “the background consciousness of God’s presence.” If God were to remove this background consciousness, you would know it immediately. The background consciousness of God’s presence is largely undetected and unnoticed by us Christians. We don’t recognize it for one simple reason: It’s always present. It’s not dissimilar to why you don’t notice the ring on your finger or the watch on your wrist at every moment. You don’t notice it because it’s always there.

However, if the consciousness of God’s ever-abiding presence were removed, it would register heavily upon you. (This is what happens when someone experiences the dark night of the soul.)

So in one regard, we are always conscious of the divine presence in that we are used to it. The light of God is always on. But it looms in the background. Yet at another level, we can be actively conscious of His presence. We can be centered on His presence in the foreground. We can be attentive to it.

At this point you might ask: How do I begin to become actively conscious of God’s presence? There are many ways, but they are beyond the scope of this book. For the purposes of this chapter, however, I will introduce you to one of the simplest ways that will also help make my overriding point.

At this very moment, turn your attention on the Lord who is always with you and who is always in you. Open your mouth and say to Him, “Lord, I’m yours.”

As soon as you do, you are consciously practicing His presence or whatever other name you wish to assign to it. This is true regardless of what your senses or feelings may say.

God’s presence is deeper than any human sensation or perception.

Continue this simple practice the rest of your life, and you will have found one of the wellsprings and mainstays of spiritual formation.

From Revise Us Again by Frank Viola, author