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The Dark Night of the Soul

• Greg Boyd

Greg vulnerably shared with us something he is currently going through, what St. John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul.” In his brokenness, Greg openly talked about his current struggle by referencing Psalm 73, which was written by Asaph, who went through a similar experience.

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A message from Greg about this sermon:

This week’s ‘sermon’ was admittedly weird, but I’m in a weird place. I’ve been through “dark” times before, but it never happened like or felt like this. I wake up at 2:00 a.m. in a painful state of despair for no apparent reason. Now I see that I’ve let too many things slide and haven’t guarded my heart like Proverbs 4:23 tells us to do. When too many little angers, sorrows, frustrations, questions, and needs go unattended for too long, I now see that they eventually scream for attention with a vengeance, and in my case, ALL AT ONCE. Say hello to “the dark night of the soul” (a concept developed by St. John of the Cross). I know from experience and others’ testimonies that these painful places can result in major spiritual growth, though right now I’m not experiencing that.

Yet, despite my present struggle with feeling cynical, I’m oddly optimistic, for I know that God is lovingly and intensely at work to bring good out of this (and every) experience. I’m thankful that, despite many feelings I have to work through and issues to resolve, I’m unshaken in my confidence that Jesus Christ is Lord, that he died for me, that I’m his passionately loved child and that he’ll never let me go. Living in this reality is my soul’s anchor, empowering me to rest in this dark place and allowing me to know that in time it will be worked to my benefit and the benefit of the Kingdom.

I am thankful for a community that allows for – even relishes – raw honesty. I love the fact that we are significantly free from religious performance pressures. The outpouring of love and encouragement I’ve received from hundreds of Woodland Hills people has been appreciate, and I delight in hearing how the message – or whatever it was – ministered to many people. Without close friends who have climbed down in the pit with me, I don’t see how I’d get through this. My prayer is that every person at Woodland Hills would have a small group within the larger community who cares for them as I am cared for. Despite my present circumstance, I count myself a very blessed man.

I’m not sure exactly what impact my “dark night of the soul” will have on my speaking every weekend. Spiritually and emotionally I don’t know if it will be helpful to preach now, but I know I’ll be better in the long run because of this episode. Please pray for me and remain faithful to the body of Christ and the vision of Woodland Hills Church.

In a dark place but living in the light of his outrageous love,
Greg Boyd

We have grown to expect transparency from Greg, and this week was no exception. Things have been especially difficult for Greg lately, and he first described what many have referred to as “the dark night of the soul” then offered some suggestions about what to do and what to avoid during times like this. This study guide will focus on these suggestions rather than on the particulars of Greg’s struggle. He shared five basic points that based on his reflections on Psalm 73.

1. Be honest with God. The Bible is filled with honesty about human beings and our relationships with God and each other. This is why parts of the Bible are so graphic and violent. God does not expect us to get cleaned up in order to come to God. (In fact, we can only truly be healed of our brokenness and sin by believing that God accepts us as we are and will work on us once we give ourselves wholly to God.) In Psalm 73:1-3, 13-14 we see this sort of honesty with God – Asaph expresses what he is feeling even though what he is saying is not true. But it clearly is how Asaph felt while writing the Psalm, and therefore it is honest.

2. Be honest with others. It is important that when we are going through a dark time in our lives that we not isolate ourselves from others. We are created for community, and without it we cannot be whole and healthy. Greg’s advice was that we bring tell others how we are feeling and what we are struggling with. The purpose is not to gain some helpful perspective from them but to experience the reality that you are truly not alone even when you feel that everything is going against you. Greg alluded to the sanctuary reference in verses 16-17 to support this thought. Other people of God would be present at the sanctuary, making it a place for support and unity with others in the family of God.

3. Confess your sin. Being honest about how you are feeling was the foundation of the first two points, but there is another aspect of that honesty that must not be overlooked. We need to be open to the likely fact that we are partially responsible for the suffering that we are going through. Additionally, in our pain, we often medicate ourselves in ways that are not healthy for us or those around us. This could be through drinking, gambling, or returning to other unhealthy habits that we may have had some measure of victory over. Many Christians become especially judgmental when things are going badly. We stop pursuing God as much as we could and start assessing the lives of others. This sort of self-righteousness quickly gives way to bitterness and begins to erode many of the things God is trying to build. Greg made a point of how what was good for one stage of life may not cut it for another. Life is a process and we need to be growing or we will inevitably start dying. Verses 21-22 were given as examples of sin confessed by Asaph.

4. Don’t make major decisions during the “Dark Night of the Soul”! Here Greg pointed out the poor sense of perspective that Asaph demonstrates in vs. 4-5 and 13-14. This means that it is probably not a good time to ask Asaph for advice on how to follow God or what Asaph plans to do for the rest of his life. Set aside major decisions for a time when you are more collected.

5. Hang onto the truth! When you are in a dark place, it is important not to give yourself over to it completely. Remember the truth of who God is and what is true about you because of God’s sacrifice for you in Christ. You may not feel it deeply in your spirit at the time, but know that God is good on God’s own authority and trust that even when you cannot understand it. Acknowledge your experience of darkness, but also acknowledge the truth that you know through God’s self-revelation in your life.

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Topics: Pain & Suffering


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