(March 10, 2021) Robert and Maureen McQuillan touch on something not many are open about…
The poem Dark Night of the Soul begins with ‘In an obscure night…’ and the third line mentions ‘a hapless plight.’
Written by the 16th-century Spanish mystic and poet St John of the Cross (although he didn’t actually title it himself), it has been regarded by many as some deep spiritual, painful depression.
Depression, as Geraldine Brandt points out (The-Too-Hard-Basket) indicates, among other things that a person is low in their spirit, ‘pressed down.’
In modern terms… hampered by what we term a downer!
As we’ve ministered to church people at the altar prayer line sometimes someone – wrongly feeling ashamed and not wanting anyone else to hear – would whisper that he (or she) was suffering from depression, experiencing dark nights of the soul.
And, not just what’s badly termed as ‘ordinary Christians’ but as it happens, we’ve had to encourage a number of leaders to look beyond troubling dark nights of the soul experiences that have (are) hindering them in their ministry.
Geraldine Brandt writes about hampered ministers needing our prayers. And theologian Dr Jim McClure points out that ‘Depression – or any aspect of mental illness – is not something of which we should be ashamed. Nor should it be kept hidden’ (Mental-Illness-Realites).
We would add this – If depression were to hit, it’s definitely not something to be quiet about in case someone accuses us of having lost our faith. If they do, that’s their problem, not ours!
The reality is that anyone – church attender or leader – could become afflicted with depression. Yes, we Christians have great strength and resources in Christ. But… we must all be aware that even we could get hit by depression at some point, especially if overworked, tired, going through heavy difficulties, disappointments or illness. We’re not immune from troubles! Life is life and things go wrong for anyone!
What we must learn to do is to recognise symptoms and how to deal with this problem. Without going into a detailed ‘How to…’ treatise, let’s look at some scriptures –
Depression – this ‘pressing down’ – is really a ‘following on from’ word. This means that depression can follow on (or come about) from some upset or stress that’s happened to the person being affected.
Proverbs 12:25 is a good scripture here: ‘Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop.’
- Heaviness here is dahah – care, fear, sorrow.
- Stoop is shachah – depress, prostrate, fall.
- We find it interesting that the NKJV reads ‘Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression.’
- Reminds us of that modern word above – ‘downer’!
We must find a way up from that downer, a pathway out of that dark night into welcomed daylight, usually combining a realisation that ‘God is still in control’ (a great Christian declaration in these days of worldwide covid-19 and crime troubles!).
Knowledge of scriptural promises and assurances is a boon, as will be our own prayers and those of friends… and. importantly, not neglecting good medical directions.
Anxiety, mentioned above, is anything that causes heaviness of heart, leading to dark nights of the soul! Praise God for the medical profession… but in trusting that the Lord will hear our prayers, our cries, know that he had answers for depression long before prescription tablets!
Geraldine Brandt and Dr Jim McClure share about the downer experiences King David and the prophet Elijah had and how God helped them. Samson was another whose ‘dark hour cry’ God heard and helped…
Even though he’d moved in the amazing power of God’s Spirit and strength (Judges 15:14-19), this incredibly strong man was exhausted after killing 1000 of Israel’s enemies single-handedly. Obviously deeply depressed he cries out to God for help: ‘Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of these pagan people?’
And God had an answer… he ‘caused water to gush out of a hollow in the ground … and Samson drank and was revived as he drank.’
‘Revived indicates’ that he was refreshed anew…’came alive.’ The Good News Bible puts it this way: ‘began to feel much better.’ God always has an answer to every problem, including sickness weariness and heaviness of heart (depression)!
Matthew Henry, well-known for his exhaustive verse-by-verse study of the Bible, has commented, ‘This instance of Samson’s relief should encourage us to trust in God and seek him.’
Point: Trusting God means calling out to him, but if a miraculous answer doesn’t come about immediately, we must be wise and seek medical attention, still trusting God!
Depression is a real nasty!
Following troubles and disappointments, especially being heartbroken over what someone did or said can hurt big time!
Depression, like Satan, endeavours to sneak up on us, catch us unawares and rob us of joy. If we hang on to feelings of depression, they’ll flatten us – ‘de press’ – for days, weeks, months or longer.
They can lead to emotional and mental illness and cloud our thinking for a long time! We’ll go round the clock dwelling on even trivial matters. It’s really a rotten thing. Yet God always has answers…we must turn to him right away and get his help.
- Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages us to trust in the Lord with all our heart for everything. Verse 8 promises renewed health, nourishment and vitality.
- GNB says: ‘If you do, it will be like good medicine, healing your wounds and easing your pains.’
- The good news of Revelation 21: 4 is comforting! ‘God will remove all your sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.’
Now that’s not just a promise to be outworked in eternity… it can be ours here and now!
No matter how dark the night, our God will never let us down! Psalm 34: 17-18 is precious: ‘The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.’
But remember… it all depends on us calling out to God, even as Jesus did on his dark night of the soul in the garden of Gethsemane.
- Calling out to God is simply a matter of intelligent prayer.
- And, without any false fears, trusting good friends to back us.
- Looking to the Lord first, and fully trusting him.
- Remembering there’s nothing wrong with seeking professional medical care. This is exercising wisdom!
- As we grow in Christ, discovering we trust him to free us from everything that wrongly tries to beset us.
Back to that Spanish St John above … not only was his poem considered as some deep spiritual, painful depression but, as he mentions in his The Declaración, ‘something that may be, must be, experienced before spiritual enlightenment.’
The phrase Dark Night of the Soul has become a catchphrase for dark times of troubled minds, difficulties in life, trials – several songwriters and authors such as Van Morrison and F Scott Fitzgerald have referred to it in their lyrics or novels.
But there’s more to that third line of the poem’s first verse: encouragingly it’s full reading is ‘O hapless, happy plight!’ It’s a narration about the journey of the soul leading to a deeper union with God. As mentioned previously it wasn’t the author who named it ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ – he simply referred to the journey’s ‘Dark Night’ because ‘darkness’ represents the fact that the destination – God – is unknowable.
With the Holy Spirit’s help moving ahead with in expectation despite everything, every hazard, can lead to knowing God and trusting him to be with us… whatever! And it brings its own joy!
‘The dark night of the soul’ doesn’t refer to life’s difficulties in general. In a three-volume treatise, the author writes about the joyful experience of being guided ‘to arrive at a sweet and delicious life with God.’
Peter advised, ‘Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you’ (1Peter 5:7NLT). Our prayer for depressed, despondent, anxious souls is that by God’s grace your ‘dark nights of the soul’ journey will bring you into a deeper relationship with him as you determine to breakthrough in trusting Gtd. That you’ll know his provision of answers to prayer, and experience spiritual enlightenment, resultant joy and peace.
As we consider the real meaning of Easter next month, let’s recall the dark night of the soul those depressed, scared disciples, who had deserted their Lord, were experiencing when they ‘were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders’ (John 20:19).
Suddenly their friend Jesus appeared, frightening them further. What was he going to do? Like Elijah call fire down from heaven and blast them for their unfaithfulness, their weaknesses of the mind?
No… he greeted them warmly with the comforting salutation ‘Peace be with you!’ (Not the usual ‘Shalom’ but ‘eirene’ speaking of quietness, rest, being at ‘one with oneself’).
No wonder verse 20 proclaims that ‘The disciples were overjoyed.’ Why? This verse explains why… in their dark night they encountered the ‘unknowable’… they suddenly ‘saw the Lord’!
Light shone on their dark journey: the past with its failings were forgiven, forgotten. With joy – and peace – the risen Jesus welcomes the disciples into the beginning of their new ‘sweet and delicious life with God’ telling them they would now be on a gospel mission for him and inviting them to receive the powerful Holy Spirit.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary points out this wasn’t a mere wish! Matthew Henry wrote that Jesus was ‘conferring on them all the blessed fruits and effects of his death and resurrection.’
Personal downers? Whatever our own dark night of the soul … depression, some illness or frightening life challenge, we can ask our God for this fruit of the Spirit – peace! Oh what Jesus so willingly, readily gives when we ask expectingly!
There is a way out… good can come out of dark night experiences, situs! We can overcome, be victorious and move forward in 2021!
Dr Robert and Maureen McQuillan’s links are OnlinerConnect@gmail.com and Facebook (Scriptures mainly NIV/all emphases in this Onliner ours. Appreciated images/pics: various general sources). Links: Geraldine Brandt’s The-Too-Hard-Basket / Trevor Pugh’s That-Black-Dog / Jim McClure’s Mental-Illness-Realites / Charles Schwab’s That-Dreaded-D-Word-Depression