Healing Line

Healing Line

More on the Dark Night

by Francis MacNutt
Nov/Dec 2009

Several readers of Healing Line have kindly written to say that they really appreciated the article on Spiritual Dryness, published in our May/June 2009 issue, and its value in our spiritual lives. And since I talked about the first Night of the Senses, they asked about the others.

The basic thought is really very simple, and that is that our spiritual growth is usually a gradual growth and is basically a struggle against our natural selfishness. In fact, the best translation for "flesh" in the famous passages about the "flesh" fighting against the spirit is that "flesh" ("sarx" in the original Greek) is best translated by "selfishness" rather than by the word "flesh" — which usually suggests sexual sins. The deeper sin against which we always struggle is selfishness, as contrasted to love of one–another. The reason we need God's help is that we usually don't realize in the beginning how self–centered we really are. When we are first converted, we are usually partly converted, but after conversion, some real changes take place. I may stop some gross sins, like getting drunk on weekends. But now my selfishness moves up a notch. For example, I may now give gifts to various ministries, but I may have mixed motives. In addition to wanting to help spread the Gospel, I may desire to receive a 100–fold material blessing. We attend worship services, and the reason we really attend is that we're exhilarated by the music sessions: we are excited and say that we experienced the "Anointing," and this particular preacher is truly anointed and "Spirit–filled."

And that may be; it's good to have a happy experience, but it may just be an emotional high that we seek, and so we travel from church to church, seeking an "anointed" service. In a way, this is good, but these happy feelings are only part of life, and we may be going to a particular church because the preacher appeals to these joyful feelings. But the feelings never last, because true spirituality also depends on our willingness to suffer when we care for the sick and visit those in prison — the very criteria Jesus said he will use to separate out those who will be saved — the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25).

What God does in the first dark night, the night of the "senses" is to take away some of our over–reliance on the emotional inducements we have for being a Christian. The different dark nights are just God stripping us of our selfishness at ever deeper levels. Level one is being stripped of the emotional inducements which first drew us: the joy, the exhilaration of Spirit–filled music, of great preaching, of feeling the weight of sins dropping away. These things are all good, but they naturally grow less and less as we get used to them. "Been there. Done that." Singing carols at Christmas time is more appealing than visiting someone in prison.

But in the Dark Nights of the Soul, God strips us of our unnecessary attachment to emotional highs and frees us of deeper selfishness. Our intellectual certitudes and intellectual pride are the next to go; we may begin our Christian journey by being comforted by belonging to a church we believe is the best and truest church we feel is spiritually superior. But we are humbled to find Christians outside our group who are more loving than we are. We begin to struggle with doubts, including doubts about whether we are any holier than we were ten years ago. Now we are bored by preachers who used to inspire us. Worse yet, we are disillusioned by the falls from grace we may see in our heroes in the faith.

What God is doing is getting you now to deepen in faith and hang on to the ideal of imitating Jesus by hanging on to our ideals by faith — which is by definition something we can't see. We may feel like Jesus on the cross: "Why have you forsaken me?"

It is only through suffering and living through the disappointments of life that are not your choice. Peter was the forceful leader of the early church, but for his personal growth he needed to be cured of his self–will — like all of us. At the end of John's Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that he will have to be stripped of his self–will, as we all will:I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.

      — John 21:18

That's what the dark nights are all about.

And at the end of the night comes the dawn, and we will see Jesus.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Nov/Dec 2009 Issue