in the not okay

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Yes, I believe our salvation is in Christ, and that it’s a grand and glorious salvation. But I distrust teaching or theology which has easy answers, and doesn’t seem to take seriously the struggle and plight we can find ourselves in, even if confined largely to our experience. This is why we can turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. We find it’s for real people, and as we keep going, by faith we’ll come to see that God is just as real. To help us through. But sometimes we do feel alone and overcome. And if I judge correctly through this psalm, that’s okay.

when overwhelmed with darkness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Sometimes, especially for some of us, we feel quite down and not far from despair. At times lack of sleep may be the culprit; we need proper sleep. But some of us easily drift into this state of despondency when so much seems wrong to us, or when at least we don’t feel good inside.

This is so very true with the psalmist here. Someone said they made darkness an idol. I don’t agree at all. They were simply stating their experience to God.

The crucial point for us to hold on to when we’re struggling is the importance of addressing our concerns and baring our heart to God, holding nothing back. We can see that eloquently done in this psalm.

I like the way this psalm ends with a sense of being stuck in the mire, lost in the darkness, akin to “the dark night of the soul.” Because it’s real to life, not some phony pretense of saying “All is well” when it’s not.

Fortunately the Bible and the psalms don’t end there. God is good and God will work everything out for good. When we don’t see the good, when essentially we don’t feel good, we need to practice what the psalmist does here. Cry out to God, and keep talking to God, looking to God for the help that only God can give. In and through Jesus.

(Medical and/or psychological help may also be needed. Some of us are just more prone this way, but others need special help. And that can include any of us. So we need to be open to that possibility, as well.)

the fake world of pop theology in denying the reality of mental illness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Another Christian, this time a pastor (we could say another pastor) has committed suicide. He was well aware of the danger, probably entered to a significant extent into the depths of others, and didn’t get out himself when he sank into his own depths of darkness. Once I led a team devotions at a Christian ministry where I work, going over this psalm. I asked if anyone there thought this psalm is meant for us today, and no one raised their hand. Based on what I gather, most would say “no,” though maybe it would be more like “I don’t know.” I think I remember at least one head shaking no.

I am glad to be part of a ministry that takes mental illness seriously. It’s not swept under the rug or attributed to the demonic or considered a sign that someone lacks faith. It is an honest illness which humans struggle with. Maybe the psalmist would have been diagnosed with mental illness such as a bipolar disorder. I think such a psalm and other Scripture similar to that can be helpful for such people to realize they’re not alone. That others struggle too with darkness.

I wonder if maybe I suffer with a mild case of something such. I don’t know. I have struggled not feeling good internally for years, decades, and that might be related to head trauma. So it’s easy for me to identify with Psalm 88.

There is within the Christian tradition, “the dark night of the soul,” hardly acknowledge in the evangelical Christian circles I’m a part of. I don’t at all for a moment think a person, yes a Christian has to be clinically depressed or mentally ill to experience such. There are all kinds of reasons in this world why we can get down. Of course there’s what’s considered normal depression, maybe over not meeting a goal, or losing a friend, even a marriage. Just maybe it would be helpful to consider mental health problems as also being like temporary sicknesses such as physically catching a cold or the flu, so that one might have a bout with melancholy over an extended period of time. Of course no one can possibly be the same after an unexpected death of a loved one.

The Bible reflects real life with all its complexities. For those who take Scripture at its word, spiritual warfare can be accompanied by a spiritual darkness. A time and space where God seems to be absent. And where hope seems all but gone, replaced by fear, or more like a gnawing shock in which little seems real.

At any rate, I take Scripture seriously in part because I find it takes life seriously. People of faith question God and struggle in their experience. The psalms are repeatedly helpful, this psalm a prime example.

Psalm 88 ends on a realistic note. Because God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want. We don’t always find the help we want. But we hold on in faith regardless, this psalm an expression of that. Something we should thank God for, helping us not only live through such times, but do so knowing that the Lord is somehow with us (Psalm 23:4).  The end of Psalm 88 is an end, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

turning the corner

Sometimes I feel and seem to be in a place in which either my wheels are turning slow, or they’re stuck. And I can’t get any uplift, the joy of my salvation largely absent. Life can then seem to be a grind, the oil of the Holy Spirit seemingly absent. So that one essentially feels like they’re on their own.

Most of the time for me, such times are relatively short lived, and yet when they keep coming up again and again, and then one holds on and seems (I don’t like to use the same word too often, but it seems like I needed seems again) like it might never end, then one begins to wonder what’s up.

It’s not like there are no reasons for the difficulty; I can chalk it up most of the time to a trial which I could specify. It’s that there ought to be a word from God for it, and actually there always is something I can seek to apply from scripture. And basically simply seek the Lord in prayer, while I try to comply to his word.

I find inevitably that it’s simply a matter of time before I break into the clear again, and emerge into the sunshine of God’s grace, and begin to see a bit clearer. But again, when I keep going back again and again, and especially when it’s for the same reason, then I begin to think enough is enough. I’ve had it, and I want something different as a pattern of life.

I find that in the evangelical circles in which I am in, there seems to be no place for “the dark night of the soul” (see Psalm 88 for just one of the many examples of this from scripture). And because of that, we fail to learn how to navigate such times through scripture, and through tradition, surely to our great loss. Perhaps there are depths which may be needed before certain heights are accessible. At least for us to be deepened ourselves, we surely need to go through something of the depths.

Turning the corner in this is simply by grace through faith. Even as we were saved, we are being saved in the same way. Works come sometimes as a needed expression of faith I suppose, but by and large I see as the result of God’s grace and our response of faith. And what is needed is something of a glimmer of hope, which is certain to get stronger, along with the faith and love which accompanies it.

Is God true to his word, and just how great and good is our God, anyhow? I have to know, or at least ought to, that God will take care of whatever difficulty I’m in, and that in this there can be a greater purpose at stake. We are in the world not merely for ourselves, to somehow succeed, or live carefree, untroubled lives. We in Jesus are in the world in mission for others. We are to be a witness of God’s ongoing faithfulness in Jesus, of the faith that is in Jesus, the good news in him. That is why we’re here, and that is what God is about, both in shaping us, and in our experience in this life of the ongoing salvation that is in Jesus.

seeing more, going deeper

There are posts which are taken up with the end, and most posts with something of the end and the means. This post is more than less taken up with the means. They say more than half the joy is the journey before the arrival.

I have noticed that when I get into those relatively infrequent times when there seems to be an impasse, and no breakthrough, or what breakthrough finally does happen seems to be withdrawn a bit at a certain juncture, those are the times I pay particularly close attention to God’s word both in terms of the written text, and what God might be saying through that.

Usually when I experience a trial of some sort, in the course of a day or less, the problem seems resolved, and there is once again grace and peace from God. But I refer here to those times which seem to linger, even day after day, and in which I seem to be battered, maybe broken in some way, and baffled, not seeming to make any headway.

Maybe such times are akin to our Lord’s counsel to his disciples that such come out only through prayer and fasting (or at least, prayer). What I do think is certain is that these are times during which we can see in some way what we missed before, and descend deeper into depths, and higher into heights, not previously attained, or frankly, sought after, probably unimagined.

Somehow one has to not only accept, but become accustomed to the sense of having not arrived to the goal (Philippians 3). All too often in Evangelical Christianity (I might be able to criticize, since I myself am part of that tradition), there is an emphasis, which while right in its time and place, can lend itself to making us rather shallow, with little heart. Although I don’t think such an emphasis has to leave anyone that way. The Roman Catholics have a point when they say life in Christ is a continual conversion. Yes, we’re converted, and translated from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son God loves. Therefore, we are in a process of sanctification, in being made holy, which won’t be completed until we see Jesus at his return.

And so, it’s with this solace that I enter into another day, not only sensing, but feeling my own great need. And wanting to gather from the gospel, and through the church what scripture tells me I need and is available to us in Christ. Even while I continue to look into that word, hopefully seeing clearer and more deeply by the Spirit, what the Spirit is saying to me, to us in Jesus, to the churches. As I look forward to the day when we will finally have arrived at the goal, the completeness in Christ in which we stand now having finished its work on us, in the new world in him.

 

“walking/living in darkness” and “the dark night of the soul” two different things entirely

There are those who believe that no believer in the present should experience anything of the depths of the psalmist in Psalm 88. After all, didn’t Jesus say:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

The walking in darkness is a motif in scripture which has to do with living apart from the light of God. Deeds of darkness accompany that, as Paul makes clear. Isaiah touches on this as well. There is both a culpability as in deserving blame and an ignorance here.

The dark night of the soul as John of the Cross called it, is something entirely different. The light is present, oddly enough, but it’s almost like something of an eclipse is taking place, so that experiencing God seems all but lost. We find this not only in the Old/First Testament, but in the New/Final Testament, as well. No less than Jesus himself experienced something of this in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross itself. We could make an argument that Paul experienced something of this himself (2 Corinthians).

The dark night of the soui is paradoxically when the light can be most at work in our lives in a work of not only exposing, but helping us eradicate as in get rid of folly or certain habits of the heart. Inclining us to the new way, to God’s will in Jesus. Of course in the case of Jesus, although he learned obedience from what he suffered, he was also without sin (Hebrews), no folly in him. So the dark night of the soul can be at work in something of a mysterious way in shaping us according to God’s will, as well.

As a brother shared recently, we fail to read the New/Final Testament with the Old/First Testament in mind. The writers of the New Testament wrote thoroughly immersed in the teaching of the First Testament so that there is continuity between the two Testaments along with the radical newness in Jesus that the fulfillment of the First Testament brings.

And so in Jesus we are those who no longer walk in darkness, but who have the light of life. And that light is at work in our lives, exposing our own darkness, so that we can more fully live in the will of God together in Jesus.

knowledge becoming reality

Paul, who saw as few have ever seen, said we now see through a glass darkly, or like a dim/rather distorted image in a mirror (1 Corinthians 13). We are limited. On occasion, though it seems rare, we sometimes catch a clear glimpse of truth, more like get immersed into something of the reality of truth. A couple of examples probably more or less common to us all in Jesus: a sense of our sin as offensive to God and a violation of love against both God and neighbor. And the righteousness, peace and joy that is simply a part of God’s love in his grace and kingdom in Jesus, which can flood our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5).

Much of the time, at least in my experience, and I think I’m not alone, we live in a faith which accepts truth revealed from God, at the heart of that, the truth of the gospel. But truths like God is our Father, we are his children, our relationship to God is through Jesus, etc., etc. We accept everything as we understand it, which we may often acknowledge, not very well. But in all our weakness and we can even say sin since we still do sin, we believe it in the midst of a denying world and even with all of our doubts.

I think over time, imperceptibly by us since it’s gradual and since we remain limited as creatures and still quite susceptible to sin, but over time what we know by faith becomes more and more the reality in our lives. So that we know that God in Jesus by the Spirit is indeed our salvation. That in all of our weakness and yes, sin, we are ever in need of God and God’s salvation in Jesus. So that our perspective is more and more changed from whatever we once thought the world and reality is to the reality that shows up the falsehood of everything else.

In time our knowledge becomes reality. Not that this isn’t true in some measure genuinely at the onset of our salvation, when this begins to dawn on us. It seems like God usually makes it especially clear then. We must go on through dry, dark and dangerous places. Holding on to the faith of the gospel, to the truth that is in Jesus. A vital part of the knowledge we have through faith becoming more and more a reality. Destined to become the reality of the world in and through Jesus.

darkness

I was recently intrigued and found resonance in the point Rachel Held Evans recently made in looking for a spirituality and liturgy which includes darkness. I agree. Awhile back I led a devotional on Psalm 88 with a group of evangelical brothers (maybe a sister with us). I asked if anyone thought the struggle of darkness can be something we experience today as followers of Jesus in the new covenant. They all either said no, or did not affirm such as possible in the life of a Christian.

There is no question that not only the New Testament, but the Old, draws some pretty stark lines. Consider two passages:

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know what makes them stumble.

Proverbs 4:18-19

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7

We shouldn’t at all write off these passages as somehow not realistic for us in Jesus in this present life. We are people of the light, not of the darkness, and therefore are to live accordingly, as we’re told elsewhere by Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

Nevertheless in this life we experience darkness in the form of the world, the flesh and the devil. And the experience of this is complex, since flesh is in the mix. Flesh is a difficult term to grapple with in the New Testament (transliteration: sarx). It often means humans in our weakness and bent and inclination, and even more than that, our slavery to sin. But it can also mean simply living in this life as the humans we are, in our weakness apart from sin. Even Jesus himself taking on himself the same flesh in his humanity, apart from the propensity to sin.

Experience is important, and we often arrive by faith into more of the light in our experience, through the darkness. Jesus experienced such in this life, of course especially at the cross, and others, not least, the Apostle Paul himself. John of the Cross wrote about “the dark night of the soul.” And I have thought that Rich Mullins’ lyrics and songs are often imbued with light due to the contrasting darkness which he struggled with which also is evident in some of what he wrote. The psalms are for the people of God today. They are part of our heart language, even as followers of the light.

Psalm 88

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According tomahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
    turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
    like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
    who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
    you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
    and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
    my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
    I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
    Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
    your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
    or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
    your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
    they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

God’s peace after the storm

Sometimes we do experience God’s peace in the midst of trouble, in the midst of the storm. But often enough it can come afterward, after we’ve endured a feeling of unsettled darkness.

It is important for us that we simply maintain our faith, hold on. We can’t manufacture (for lack of a better word) this peace ourselves; it is a peace that comes from God, from the Holy Spirit. And it’s a peace which has to do with a certain direction called in scripture the path of the righteous, simply living in God’s leading.

We can expect as those who live in this present existence that our faith and way in Jesus will be challenged both externally and internally. Doubts, fears, whatever else will come and go. This is all a part of life, things we may well need to work through or let go, in a sense ultimately eventually always letting go. As we trust ourselves into God’s arms and he shares something of his heart with us. In and through Jesus.

going on in the haze

Sometimes life is anything but comfortable. There can be certain factors at work in that both rather known and unknown. It is nice to have sunny blue skies and the air clear. It is good when the threatening weather comes and the storms pass through with no one hurt, perhaps only having to clean up some debris. There are times when life seems cast in a haze and there is little else we can do but go on.

We might ask ourselves if some of the thoughts we’ve entertained have contributed to this “air” pollution. Perhaps we didn’t dwell on them at all, but just the same, their impact was rather formative on us, on our psyche, so that much of the comfort and joy of life had seemed all but displaced. Perhaps it’s circumstances which are not comfortable in one way or another. Oh for the nice getaway when our focus can be elsewhere in rest and pure enjoyment.

Over and over, fortunately here and there – not all the time – I’ve had to go on in the haze. Not sure where I was going, what was going on, what might come out of it. But going on just the same in faith that God would see me through. Even learning to relax and rest in something other than ideal circumstances. Perhaps attuning one’s self to life as it really is and not as we wish it would be.

In the process circumstances may not change soon, but perhaps it is we who are changing, at least in learning how to go through them with our faith in God not only intact, but somehow strengthened. Perhaps in ways we couldn’t have conceived of beforehand as well as in ways we don’t notice ourselves, even if others might sense some difference in us.

Comforts such as peace and joy are wonderful to experience and we can cherish those moments and times. But by and large that doesn’t seem to be where life is lived. It is more on the edge which mostly seems simply uncomfortable. We need to get used to that and find our life all the more in God in and through Christ. As we look forward to the day when all the haze will forever be gone.