We need to know things. I need to know things. I need to know that tomorrow will be better than today. I need to know that God has a plan. I need to know that suffering is not as senseless as it seems. I need to know that my life has meaning. I need to know that God is good. A crisis of faith is when you don’t know what you know. A crisis of faith is when you don’t know any of the things you once knew. A crisis of faith is when you aren’t sure if you ever knew any of it in the first place.
If there is ever pain associated with death, then the loss of faith is the agony of a spiritual death. St. John of the Cross, a major figure of the Catholic Reformation who was canonized as a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII, identifies this crisis of faith as the dark night of the soul. The utter desolation in this place is akin to hell itself for those lost in this wild, dark wilderness. The story of Job details God’s silence in the face of unparalleled suffering without ever offering justification. Similarly, the 88th Psalm is an extended lament without the expected resolution. The truth is that God allows profound suffering in our lives without explanation. I have never read anything the least bit satisfactory that fully explains the suffering of Job. To this day, I still find the story deeply troubling. I have learned to live with that.
And yet, God’s silence does not mean that he is not there. Psalms 23:4 says, “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me.” I am reminded of when I made a serious attempt at getting my baby to sleep in his own bed (I failed utterly, but I digress) because it was best for him and his sleep-deprived parents. When my son inevitably woke up crying, I went into his room, attended to his needs and returned him to his own bed. Then I shut the door, but what the little guy didn’t know was that I was still in the room standing guard, bearing witness to his distress. He cried 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes. There I sat at the foot of his crib silently weeping with him, so wanting to pick him up and tell him that he was safe and that I was here. But I didn’t, since I knew that he would then never be able to conqueror the terror of the darkness if I appeared every time he cried. My baby had to learn that lesson alone, but I never left him for one moment.
It’s been almost five years since I was pregnant with that same son and that I faced my own dark night. My life was unraveling; I was on the verge of a complete mental and spiritual breakdown. In that dark place, I learned that it is possible to live with unanswered questions. I learned that it is possible to live with a certain level of doubt. Now that takes faith.
The English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in the poem In Memoriam, after learning of the sudden death of his 22-year-old friend, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” (stanza 95). When you come to the end of doubt, dark and silence, God is. It is not a truth that you feel or even believe, but that you know. From out of the darkness, Job cried, “For I know that my redeemer lives … yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 10:25-26). It is from this place of knowledge that you begin to walk with God in the dark. You read your Bible when it seems fruitless, you pray when your words fall flat, you go to church when all you hear is noise, yet you keep walking because you know that God is. And you worship. Then, in His time, as you and your Shepherd emerge from the shadows, you begin to see that, in the darkness, His goodness and mercy have been sustaining you all along. That is something that you need to know, but that sometimes you have to travel through the darkness to discover.