God and the Desert

God and the Desert

Saudi is hot and beautiful. It is silent and majestic. It is primarily a massive desert.

Speaking of deserts, it’s got me to thinking lately . . .

Ever notice how much of the Bible took place in the desert? It is a fitting metaphor for much of the Christian life. For much of life is not in the fertile valley, but in the desert. It is there that we often experience the silence of God—a silence that many find deafening. It seems like just about every major player in the Bible struggled with God’s silence—including Jesus. Even the Son of God, when overwhelmed by grief and a sense of abandonment, cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Yet, not only does much of the Bible take place in the desert, but it is often God who drives people into the desert and leaves them there. The Judean desert (in Israel) is a brutal place; it is arid, searing hot, dry and barren. We’ve been there. It is a wasteland. The Psalms are filled with descriptions of those who experienced the silence of God—which sounds a lot like life in a desert. In Psalm 6, David cries out, “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger . . . My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” In Psalm 13, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Then there is Psalm 22 (which Jesus quoted on the Cross), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Another example is Psalm 44, a Psalm of the Sons of Korah. Here the writer says something that many of us can identify with—namely, We honored you as God, and things were going well. Then all of a sudden, everything changed. What happened? We aren’t doing anything different, but suddenly everything seems against us. Verse 44:17 puts it this way: “All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.”

Then there is the cheery ending to Psalm 88, “The darkness is my closest friend.”

Writers of long ago referred to such times of darkness as silence as the dark night of the soul. It is a reality many of God’s people have experienced. I have. Those times when all we can do is weep and weep. Times when we can’t find our bearings, can’t find hope, can’t find God. Where is He?

Old Testament scholar, Walter Bruggemann, says there are three types of Psalms:

  1. Psalms of orientation (like Psalm 1): these Psalms tell us how to walk with God and the blessings that follow. These kinds of Psalms are cause-and-effect
  2. Psalms of disorientation (like Psalm 22): these Psalms express the dark night of the soul, when life falls apart.
  3. Psalms of re-orientation (like Psalm 62): these Psalms help us find our way out of the swamp after God has afflicted us.

So what do we do in a dark night of the soul? There are no simple answers. But this much we do know: although we may not understand the ways of God, we can be assured about the character of God. Namely, He is good all of the time! And one of the most powerful reminders that He is good is the simple fact that He gave us the Psalms. The Psalms remind us that, not only is our Heavenly Father good, He is wise, all-powerful, full of mercy and compassion.

The Psalms are incredible—they are real and raw. They help us express our grief and anguish to God, and they help us find our way back to God. For example, in Psalm 13, after pouring out his anguish to God, David says that even though he feel utterly abandoned at the moment, “But . . . I will trust in Your unfailing love. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me.” Those are powerful affirmations from the dark cave. They are a reminder to us that dark nights of the soul are very real and normal, and that the only way out of them is to cling to God’s Word like an anchor in a hurricane.

I’ve found that even when my emotions will not adjust right away (sometimes it takes days or weeks or months), I must cling to what I know is true. I must go back to my rock and rejoice in God and His promises. This is what David did, its what Habakkuk did, and it’s what Jesus did! So if you’re in a dark night of the soul right now, I would encourage you to run to the Psalms. Dwell in them, camp in them! God’s love and light will eventually break through; He promises this for genuine believers. Read and re-read God’s promises to you. If you are not yet a true follower of Jesus, repent and believe and then the Psalms will contain true promises for you.

I’d also highly recommend a book by Dr. David Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression. It is a series of sermons he preached in the Psalms in 1963 at this church in London. They offer a compelling reminder of the astonishing power of God’s Word to fight depression, discouragement, and despair. Jones reminds us that we should fight for joy—that we need to fight for joy, that we must fight for joy! He offers practical wisdom to battle darkness the next time it is lurking at our door.

by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor