How long will you hide your face from me?
It is the confusion of John the Baptist as he wonders, Are you the one who is to come? (Matthew 11:3) It is the agony of the Lord Jesus is the Garden of Gethsemene: My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Matthew 26:28).
It is the experience of grieving parents, of loved ones gathered at the bedside or graveside. It is the late night tears of the lonely and weary; the silent cries for help when the darkness seems overwhelming. It is the experience of anyone who has found themselves in the midst of the storm; who wonders if there is any light at the end of the this chaos.
It is what St. John of the cross called the dark night of the soul. The dark night of the soul as he described it is not simply the experience of disappointment, loss or hardship, it is suffering in what feels like the silence of God. Some of you know only too well the dark night of the soul.
As I think on my own journey and the journey Janice and I have shared together, we have experienced such moments in our lives. I remember like it happened just yesterday (it’s been almost 30 years), the night we stood by the hospital bed of Janice’s dad; the night-long vigil of hoping and praying for a miracle that didn’t come. I remember hearing the deep sobs of her mother and pleading with God to reveal Himself in this darkness. I will never forget the morning wake-up call telling us that Janie’s sister had lost a two year battle with cancer; trying to make sense of it all. For several days we felt like we were in that dark night when our son Scott was rushed to Sick Kids hospital in Toronto -- the waiting and wondering and entering into his suffering. And into a community of other parents who were also in the dark night.
In 30 plus years of pastoral ministry we have been invited into the dark night others were experiencing;
so many have allowed us to share in their pain and suffering. I have sat with spouses and children in the final moments of life. I have stood in the hospital room of grieving parents and with a distraught mother whose son was found brutally murdered.
The common experience of all is one of deep disappointment and confusion and openly or quietly wondering, where is God in the midst of the chaos? We wonder, what do I do in the dark night?
The answer is profoundly simple—nothing. How do you respond to the darkness and disappointment and chaos? You wait. You wait, trusting God to provide what is needed when He chooses to give it. We wait, we hold on, we ask for help and let go of our need to hurry through it, because you can’t run in the darkness. And waiting is the hardest part of hope.
Lewis Smedes puts it this way, Waiting is our destiny as creatures who cannot bring about by themselves what they hope for. We wait in darkness for a flame we cannot light. We wait in fear for a happy ending we cannot write. We wait for a not yet that feels like a not ever.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. (Psalm 37:7)
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:14)
But, we don’t like to wait. Frederick Faber, a 19th Century writer makes this observation, There is something greatly over-awing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let in not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait and He will come.
He never comes to those who do not wait. He does not go their road. When he comes, go with Him, but go slowly, fall a little behind; when He quickens His pace, be sure of it, before you quicken yours. But when he slackens, slacken at once; and do not be slow only, but silent, very silent, for He is God.
In our human-ness, in our fallen-ness we wrestle with this truth. Our theology and even our hearts tell us that God is sovereign, but we struggle because our personal lives do not always unfold the way we think they should if God is truly in control and kind and loving and compassionate. It’s not that we don’t see evidence of His care but in the dark night, in moments suffering / pain / personal tragedy we are overwhelmed by the apparent silence and slowness of God. To which God quietly whispers through our pain, trust me, I know what I’m doing; let me do it my way, trust me.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. (Psalm 28:7)
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. (Psalm 56:3-4)