Thursday, October 3, 2019

Job and the Dark Night of the Soul

How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me” (Job 29:2).

Job’s greatest suffering did not come when he lost his property, when he lost his children, when he became horribly sick and suffered great physical pain, or even when his “friends” tried to get him to confess sins he had not committed. Job’s greatest suffering came from the fact that in the midst of all this agony, God withdrew the assurance of His presence.

Christians go through these periods of abandonment from time to time. The Medieval theologians called them “dark nights of the soul” and the Puritans called such experiences “desertions.” Just as God normally visits us with His presence and we bask in the glow of His love, so also God sometimes withdraws that sense from us and leaves us feeling utterly alone.

Has God really left us? No, but God makes us feel His absence so that we pursue Him and cry out more desperately to Him. Such experiences give us just a little taste of what our Savior experienced on the cross when He cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In his last speech, Job accuses God of forsaking him, saying, “You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me” (Job 30:21). At this point, it seems that Job has fallen into sin. He has stopped living by faith and has begun to rely too heavily on his feelings. Job’s suffering did not begin because of any sin on his part, but in the midst of his suffering he fell into the sin of thinking God had abandoned him.

Job 32–37 records the speech of Elihu, a young man who had been silent heretofore. Interpreters debate whether what Elihu said is right or wrong, but it seems that Elihu spoke the truth to Job, thereby leading the discussion upward toward what God said to Job next. Elihu said that Job’s friends were wrong to accuse him of sin, and that he wanted to help Job clear his name (33:32). But he also told Job that it was wrong to accuse God of being unfair. God is not obliged to answer to man. He pointed to the greatness and majesty of God, and told Job to reflect on these things. God’s ways are mysterious, but never wrong. Job must continue to trust in Him.

The great “dark night” psalm is Psalm 88. Read this psalm, and see if you recognize what the psalmist describes. Why do you think God takes His people through such experiences? Reflect upon how you might have endured if God had required you to undergo all that happened to Job.