Coming Through the Dark Night of the Soul
By tim chermak
April 16, 2010
In pop culture, it’s cool to explore your spirituality, escape religion and search for God—it’s not cool to find Him. It’s definitely not cool to tell people once you do.
In a spiritual age that celebrates authenticity over assurance, it seems that questions are the new answers. Rather than embracing doubt as a vehicle to truth, the two have become nearly indistinguishable. Blessed assurance isn’t so blessed anymore.
For many, the temporary “dark night” of the soul is now a permanent reality. Rather than searching for truth, today’s postmodern climate finds truth in the very act of searching. There is an upside to this—questions are necessary to facilitate exploration. However, when the entire Christian faith is consumed by the deconstructive machine of postmodern culture, what’s left? For many of us, the answer is “not much.”
My soul’s “dark night” nearly destroyed my personal faith. I dove into philosophy, apologetics, emergent theory, anything I could get my hands on that would provide answers to the questions I was asking. Nothing seemed to work. Rather than definitive answers, I ended up with more questions. Why did God order the slaughter of innocent women and children in the Old Testament? How does a perfect God allow imperfection to plague His creation? Does God really condemn people to a fiery hell of eternal conscious torment? According to the intellectuals I was reading, I was supposed to live with these doubts ... even embrace them! I don’t know about you, but getting buddy-buddy with a God who kills babies during Hs spare time is not my idea of vibrant faith.
One can only bend so much before they break. Eventually, I did.
It was in this time of brokenness I realized how far I had fallen. I had set off on a spiritual road trip with no destination, and was crushed when I didn’t get there. It was not a lack of trust that pulled me down, it was trust in the wrong things. Instead of reliance on God, I had faith in my faith. Pursuing authenticity was a goal in and of itself. Intellectual curiosity was what I aimed for, and I hit the target.
Like any decent sunset, my candle slowly burnt out until there was nothing left. I never saw it coming.
Eventually, things started to turn around. I stopped grimacing at the phrase “going to church.” I removed Joel Osteen from my tentative list of the worst people of all time. I abandoned my plans to duct tape a list of 95 grievances to my church door. The morning sun was beginning to shimmer in the eastern sky.
I now consider myself a post-postevangelical. I’ve been dissatisfied. I’ve searched for answers. I’ve explored alternatives. And now, like a boomerang, I’ve returned to my launching pad. While I don’t believe the same things I did before, I believe, period. That’s certainly progress.
I’m finding that “evangelical” need not be a swear word, that megachurches aren’t akin to Nazi Germany, and that the valley of the shadow of death is little more than an overrated tourist trap.
After searching the Scriptures, I was surprised to find that U2 isn’t necessary for praise and worship, that coffee shop churches don’t have a monopoly on orthodox ecclesiology and that Donald Miller is not listed in Hebrews chapter 11.
Furthermore, I’ve discovered searching for a light switch is the best usage of a flashlight. Living in constant darkness just isn’t sustainable. Eventually, you simply run out of batteries. The means have to point to an end lest they become it. My struggle with doubt nearly killed me, but looking back, it only made me stronger.
Tim Chermak is a writer especially interested in asking the hard questions of faith and ecclesiology. He is currently working on a degree in Social Philosophy at Calvin College.