In today’s contemporary church, we speak little about the subject of spiritual darkness, but in the older tradition it was very different. It was recognized that at times God can sovereignly bring upon us episodes of spiritual darkness, in which what is sensed is his absence rather than his presence, his displeasure rather than an assurance of his love and of one’s own future happiness with him.
Sometimes these moments are wake-up calls regarding overdue behavioral changes, and sometimes they are simple tests of fidelity, imposed as a kind of workout through which the saints emerge stronger than before.
Detailed evidence as to what such desertion or abandonment feels like, why God inflicts it, and how to handle it, is found in the Psalms (see 38, 42, 88, 119:67, etc.), in the book of Job and in one key verse from the pen of the evangelical prophet, Isaiah.
I preached on the passage from Isaiah 50 this past week. Chapter 50, verse 10 says: “Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.”
Matthew Henry describes how it is that Christians sometimes walk in darkness:
“When their evidences for heaven are clouded, their joy in God is interrupted, the testimony of the Spirit is suspended, and the light of God’s countenance is eclipsed. Pensive Christians are apt to be melancholy, and those who fear are always apt to fear too much.”
He prescribes the two-fold cure from Isaiah 50:
He that is thus in the dark,
(1.) Let him trust in the name of the Lord, in the goodness of his nature, and that which he has made known of himself, his wisdom, power, and goodness. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, let him run into that. Let him depend upon it that if he walked before God, which a man may do though he walk in the dark, he shall find God all-sufficient to him.
(2.) Let him stay himself upon his God, his in covenant; let him keep hold of his covenant-relation to God, and call God his God, as Christ on the cross, My God, My God. Let him stay himself upon the promises of the covenant, and build his hopes on them. When a child of God is ready to sink he will find enough in God to stay himself upon. Let him trust in Christ, for God’s name is in him (Exodus 23:21), trust in that name of his: The Lord our righteousness, and stay himself upon God as his God, in and through a Mediator.
Blest is the man, O God,
That stays himself on Thee;
Who waits for thy salvation, Lord,
Shall thy salvation see
When we in darkness walk,
Nor feel the heavenly flame,
Then is the time to trust our God,
And rest upon his name.
Soon shall our doubts and fears
Subside at his control;
His lovingkindness shall break through
The midnight of the soul
His grace will to the end
Stronger and brighter shine;
Nor present things, nor things to come
Shall quench the life divine.