“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?—which means, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” Matthew 27:46
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) insists that every believer—every single one of us—will pass through a season like that of Christ on the cross: when God seems far away, and nowhere to be found.
“Every year of my life has had a winter as well as a summer,” Spurgeon writes, “and every day has had its night. I have seen brilliant sunshine and heavy rains, and felt warm breezes and fierce winds.”
Jesus’ “Good Friday” was unique; our “dark days” can’t even compare, but the way Jesus faced His darkest day can help us face our darkest seasons.
Spurgeon counsels us that ebbs and flows in religious feeling are to be expected. We shouldn’t assume that coldness of feeling is necessarily a punishment or the result of our own hearts growing cold. “Love for the Lord Jesus may be quite as true, and perhaps quite as strong, when we sit in darkness as when we walk in the night…. We may even be far advanced in the Christian life, and yet be exiled for a while from conscious fellowship with our Lord. There are nights for men as well as for infants… Therefore, do not condemn yourself because a cloud is over you.”
Nor should we stop ourselves from mourning God’s presence. “When Jesus is absent from a true heir of heaven, sorrow will ensue. The healthier a person’s condition, the sooner that absence will be perceived and the more deeply it will be mourned.” It’s okay to cry out, even to weep, to lament the sweet sense of comfort that you have drawn from walking intimately with your Lord. To mourn this loss is not a betrayal of faith, but rather an exclamation of how precious your faith really is to you.
Here’s the hard truth, however: when such a season descends upon us, we cannot make it “go away” merely by returning to the disciplines that enlightened our lives in the past. “The Scriptures and the ordinances of the church, private devotions, and public worship are all like sundials—excellent when the sun shines but of little use in the darkness.”
In fact, many of these exercises may only depress us further: “We try to pray, but devotion dies on our lips. We attempt to approach the Lord at the communion table, but we feel more like Judas than John. At such times, we have felt that we would give our eyes to behold the Bridegroom’s face once more and to know that He delights in us as He did in happier days.”
If public and private worship can’t bring us out of such a season, what can? What is the Christian’s duty?
Ah, here we are reminded that Christian spirituality is not about human initiative. Our faith was never based on our enlightenment or even our own obedience. In such a season—what John of the Cross referred to as a “dark night of the soul”—the only really effective disciplines are biblical waiting and biblical hope. Both assume the providence of God. Both teach us that we are radically and utterly dependent on God.
There is nothing you can do; there is only something God can do.
“Jesus can come to us when we cannot go to him,” Spurgeon points out. We ask Jesus to draw near; in humility, we acknowledge our inability to draw near to him on our own, and we make clear our desire that he should once again grace us with a true sense of his presence when it seems appropriate to Him to do so. We don’t know when this prayer will be answered; God has his reasons for waiting that he doesn’t always share with us. But from God’s past goodness and mercy, we can rest assured that, eventually, he will return.
“It is Christ’s way to come to us when our coming to Him is out of the question,” Spurgeon writes. “Our Lord’s coming into the world was unbought, unsought, unthought of; He came altogether of His own free will, delighting to redeem.”
Strengthen your soul by reminding yourself how God came to you in your darkened days of unbridled sin and rebellion. “Did He not come to us when we were His enemies, and will He not visit us now that we are His friends?”
If even this is not enough to encourage you, Spurgeon says we can take comfort in God’s ultimate return: “Besides, He is coming again in person on the Last Day. Mountains of sin, error, idolatry, superstition, and oppression stand in the way of His kingdom, but He will surely come and overturn, and overturn, until He reigns over all. He will come in the last days, I say, though He will leap the hills to do it. Because of that, I am sure we may comfortably conclude that He will draw near to us who mourn His absence so bitterly.”
Even more difficult than facing a dark season of our own is watching a spouse or child go through one. Don’t let God’s delay in answering your prayer turn you from God; make it rather an exercise that keeps you waiting on Him and depending on Him even more expectantly.
Spurgeon offers a wonderful prayer to soothe your soul as you wait and hope:
“O Lord of our hearts, home is not home without You. Life is not life without You. Heaven itself would not be heaven if You were absent. Abide with us. The world is growing dark, the twilight of time is drawing near. Abide with us, for the evening is coming upon us. We are getting older, and we are nearing the night when the dew falls cold and chill. A great future is all around us; the splendors of the last age are descending; and while we wait in solemn, awestruck expectation, our hearts continually cry, ‘Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, [to me].”