I was singing a song the other week and one line stopped me in my tracks. It was Bethel’s song ‘You are Good’ and the line was ‘And in my darkest night, You shine as bright as day’. It was a moment where everyone around me seemed to be caught up in worship, singing louder in agreement. But as I stood there a little rebellious voice inside me was saying: do you God? Do you really shine as bright as day in our darkest nights? If you do why do they still feel so dark?
I know I am following the ‘Light of The World’ (John 8:12) and I have been set free from sin, free to walk in the light of his grace and truth for ever. I am not talking here about the darkness of sin, which God in his grace has dealt with and released us from.
But what about the other things that seemingly bring darkness into our lives, sickness, grief, heart ache and pain? What about those times when suffering darkens our skies?
I have heard a lot of before and after testimonies in my time. A lot of wonderful stories of transformation, showing what people’s life was like before they knew God and how dramatically it changed when he came into their life. These testimonies are all unique and inspiring. But I haven’t got a before and after testimony.
I have been a Christian for as long as I have understood what that means. I know that is an incredible privilege. Yet it also means that every difficult and painful thing that has happened in my life so far, has happened whilst I’ve been following God. My faith has not shielded me from the pain of this world.
My experience of walking with God hasn’t been him lighting up every dark night. I am not saying for a minute that I don’t believe he has been with me through every difficulty, carrying me when I stumble, eternally faithful and good. But my word, at the time the darkness still felt dark to me. There were times when I have felt so desperately lost and alone. Times where I have prayed and pleaded with God, only for him to seemingly stay silent. There were nights where I just did not know how to find the strength to keep going. Oh how I wish my faith had made those dark nights light. I would love my experience of God to have been him relieving the darkness of suffering, like a swift sun rise. But faith for me on those nights was more like hunting for stars in a dark sky where the clouds obscured all but one from view. There was a glimmer of hope but the darkness seemed so complete and overwhelming that I struggled to keep it in view.
Why do I care so much anyway? It’s only a line in a song, a song I never really liked very much before. Why is it still bothering me weeks later?
I think it’s because I know we have a tendency to blame Christians who are suffering for their pain. It’s not much of a leap to think that if God lights up every dark night, then him not doing so must be a lack of faith on our part. I still vividly remember the pain of being told that my depression was because I wasn’t a good enough Christian, I wasn’t praying or reading my bible enough.
Sometimes we get so uncomfortable with the darkness of suffering in our own or other’s lives that we convince ourselves it shouldn’t be there. It can be easier to believe that someone has brought the situation on themselves, than to accept that a loving God can and does allow difficult and painful things into our lives. We are quick to judge and quick to blame. We throw ourselves into earning our freedom, to tell ourselves if we just find the right combination of words or actions then we will be able to live permanently in the sunshine. If we’re honest even though we accept there will be suffering in this world, we expect God to give us some level of protection from it.
We forget that suffering can be the tool that shapes into who we need to be. We don’t realise that sometimes life needs to be stripped away before we can see God for who he is. God is not interested in our temporary happiness or success on earth, but in us reflecting his glory.
Having faith in the midst of trials is difficult. We want our faith to be a fire that always roars within us, for the whole world to see. But sometimes the fire grows dim. There will be days when all we have is a spark which we desperately shield against the harsh winds blowing in our faces. We are left warming our freezing hands around the last remaining embers, as the night deepens around us. There may be times when you wish the fire would die out altogether, because giving in to despair feels easier than clinging on to hope. Some days we only have enough light to see an inch in front of our feet and we fear we will trip any second.
Sometimes God doesn’t light up the night. And when the night has been long, we may struggle to muster the embers of our faith to expect that he ever will.