Jesus hung on the cross, naked and disfigured from beatings, bleeding and suffocating to death. He cried out Psalm 22:1 for all to hear, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It was the darkest night ever (Matthew 27:45). Jesus felt abandoned by his Father. Many theologians say that because he took our sin on himself he was abandoned by God. In either case, he was enduring a Dark Night of the Soul. He felt God’s absence. He felt forsaken.
I’ve felt abandoned by God. Probably you have too. I talk with pastors, ministry leaders, and all kinds of Christ-followers who feel that God has left their side. It hurts! It’s disorienting!
The worst part of a time of spiritual darkness and dryness is when you feel like it’s your fault.
Discovering the Inner Light
In a Dark Night of the Soul you are not being punished for your sins. Nor has God actually abandoned you.
Of course, when we do sin we’re rejecting God and when this is our lifestyle then we will experience separation from God. God continually extends his grace to all of us sinners, but if we continually reject him, if our hearts our hard and dead to his kindness, then eventually he will discipline us in love to wake us up to our opportunity to be reconciled to him through Christ. There are negative consequences to sin.
But this is not what is going on in a Dark Night of the Soul.
In a Dark Night God has in love withheld certain blessings and withdrawn your felt sense of his presence. In love? What’s loving about feeling distant from God? God is teaching you to trust that he is good to you even when you can’t see or feel his goodness. Your love for God (and ultimately for other people too) is being tested — just as it was for Jesus on the cross.
If in the midst or your trial you continue to trust in God through Christ, stay out of shame, listen, and look for God deep in your heart (which biblically speaking is your will, not your emotions) then eventually you can tap into the reality that the Holy Spirit is within you interceding earnestly for you, “Abba Father! Jesus is Lord!” (Galatians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 12:3).
Psalm 23 and the Cross
The way that Jesus tapped into this spiritual reality as he was suffering on the cross was by praying Scripture, probably including Psalm 23. I bet you’ve never thought of this: the Lamb of God on the cross finding comfort in the Father as his Good Shepherd!
That’s a nice thought, but what gives you that idea Bill?
By quoting the first verse of Psalm 22 Jesus was using a common Jewish rabbinical teaching method of the day called a “remez.” He was invoking the whole passage that followed which for the Jews included not only all of Psalm 22, but also Psalms 23 and 24, which were always connected.
The Jews memorized whole Psalms and other long passages of Scripture. So when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” observant Jews could finish the rest of Psalm 22, 23, and 24,1 including these words:
For [the Lord] has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help…
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want… Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 22:24, 23:1, 4).
Think of Jesus on the cross meditating on these Scriptures. Think of him crying out to God just like he did a few hours earlier in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba! Abba! Abba!” (Mark 14:36). In other words, as the cross is holding him up to be crucified Jesus is praying, “Papa! Hold me!”
Jesus went to the cross and endured the Dark Night of the Soul so that in our dark nights we would know that we are not in fact alone: Jesus is embracing us in Abba’s love.
The Lamb of God found comfort in Abba as his Good Shepherd.
The Lamb of God is our Good Shepherd.
(1) Doug Greenwold, Preserving Bible Times: “The Last Words of Jesus: What Did He Really Say and Mean?”