In every believer’s life, there will be moments when God seems aloof to our suffering. In those moments we wonder, “What’s up with that? Isn’t God supposed to comfort me, provide for all my needs, and bring relief to my suffering?”
Mary and Martha asked the same questions when their brother Lazarus died. In John 11 we find that when Jesus hears Lazarus is ill, he delays going to him (John 11:4-7). Jesus delayed on purpose! Imagine how Martha and Mary felt. I’m guessing they were hurt by Jesus’ delay. When He finally arrives, both pitch their “if only” statements at Jesus: “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Their faith was in crisis. Their souls screamed, “Don’t you care, Lord?” Ah, I can relate. Can you?
John of the Cross was a Carmelite monk in church history. His greatest work was The Dark Night of the Soul. In it, John describes the work God is doing on the soul when He appears silent: “In these seasons, though God is present, He feels very absent and aloof in our dark night of the soul. Only in this tunnel of darkness, are their souls purified from instant gratification, their faith strengthened and their hope reset.”
In this season where so many are wrestling with illness, financial hardship, grief, and loss, it feels appropriate to look back and consider, how do we handle it when God seems silent?
When God Seems Silent
Remember God’s Greatest Works Are Often Done in the Dark. Only after death can there be a resurrection. As Jesus lay in darkness in the grave, when all hope seemed lost, God was getting ready to unleash the miracle of the resurrection. The same holds true in our lives. When our dreams die, when we feel hopeless, God has the hope of the resurrection on the other side. Maybe it’s a resurrection of faith. Maybe it’s a physical resurrection. Maybe it’s the resurrection of purpose. Jesus taught that a grain of wheat must die before it can sprout into many seeds (John 12:24). Before we can enjoy the power of the resurrection fully, something must die. As the seed lays dead in the darkness of the ground, God is getting ready to sprout new fruitfulness.
Dark Circumstances Allow for the Maturing of Our Faith. It’s not uncommon for new believers to experience great miracles and amazing answers to prayer. The wonder and joy of coming to Christ provide feelings of happiness and wonder. The Holy Spirit, in the words of John of the Cross, nurtures and caresses that soul. Like a loving mother who nurtures and feeds their infant milk at the first cry, the Spirit mothers the new convert. However, like infants must grow and mature, the spiritual soul must grow and mature. God, in His mercy, also allows seasons where the He feels distant. Has He moved? No. Trust is strengthened when God is seemingly absent. When we are walking through dark circumstances, God is giving us the opportunity to trust Him even when we can’t see His hand. It’s challenging for sure. I don’t want to, in any way, make light of suffering. However, I know that if we are going to grow into maturity, God is going to lead us into the tunnel of the dark night of the soul. The hope is that when we come out the other side, back into the light, we will know Him more deeply and trust Him more completely. Our hope will be reset on His goodness alone rather than on the goodness of lesser things.
Out of the Darkness Will Come Greater Fruitfulness. I have yet to meet a person who has great impact for Christ who hasn’t suffered to some degree. I know. That’s maybe not what you want to hear if you’re in a season of suffering. Perhaps that seems shallow or trite. However, I know it to be true. If Jesus hadn’t delayed coming to Mary and Martha’s house, they would have missed the miraculous resurrection of their brother. Jesus loved them. He loved them so much that He delayed. The same holds true in your life and mine. Out of His great love for us, He will delay answers. He will allow us to journey through the dark night of the soul, so that in the end our hearts are purified and readied for greater fruitfulness.
Friend, I don’t know what season you are in. I just know that many right now are in seasons of suffering. Nurture your hope and know that God has a resurrection in store for you. It might not look like what you anticipated, but it will be better than you expected. God often does His greatest work in seasons of darkness. He strengthens our faith and harvests greater fruitfulness. Hang in there and refuse to let go of your hope. In the end, God honors great faith.
If you’re in a season of darkness, the Psalms are a great place to go. Order your copy of The Extraordinary Power of Praise.