Saturday, April 26, 2014

Psalm 42 Reflection on Spiritual Darkness: Preach to Your Heart but Don’t Bully It

One of most significant passages in Scripture about spiritual darkness is Psalm 42. Like a deer who keeps looking for water in a dry riverbed, the psalmist feels like he is dying of thirst waiting for God to bring water to his parched soul.

In his sermon Finding God, Tim Keller shows how the psalmist does not moralize or spiritualize his condition and instead responds in three ways:
  •  He pours out his soul to God
  •  He questions his own hopes: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (v.5, 11).
  • He preaches the loving-kindness and grace of God to his own heart: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (v.5, 11).

I winced when I first heard Keller speak about preaching to our hearts, because I had bullied my own heart for many years. I was driven by unbiblical ideals about what it meant to follow God and what it meant to be in relationship with him, and I used Scripture to try and manipulate myself to realize those ideals. I thought I would more quickly become the ideal man of God if I could cram in enough biblical truth, but my own brokenness twisted this truth and isolated me more from God and my own heart.

There is a significant difference between bullying and preaching to your heart. Jesus spoke the truth to the crowds, but he did not coerce. He described who he is and who his Father is, and he called people to repentance and life in himself, but he did not use manipulative tactics to get them to take action. Notice that the psalmist doesn’t say the following:
  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, for spiritual people don’t have these kinds of problems”: This idealizes the self and the spiritual life and is clearly unbiblical because other psalmists, Job, and many others in scripture expressed their anguish to God about his perceived absence.
  • “Hope in God, for he will soon give me a spiritual high”: This idealizes what we think God will do. James and John had to be corrected by Jesus for wanting to be at his right and left hand in his kingdom (Mk 10:35-45) because they thought that Jesus’ redemptive work would restore the military kingdom like it was under King David. He had to show them that his kingdom would be much different from their expectations, where “anyone who wants to be important among you must be your servant” (v.43).

Instead, notice how the Psalmist preaches to himself in verses 5 and 11:
  • “Hope in God”: His hope is not in ideals or false expectations about himself or God, but in God himself.
  • “For I shall again praise him”: His hope does not rest in how he thinks God will redeem his situation, but in God who redeems and brings praise to our lips.
  • “My salvation and my God”: His hope is ultimately in the God who saves and the one he belongs to: “my God.”
The psalmist preached to himself twice after pouring out his anguish to God, and in spiritual darkness we must continue speaking the truth of who he is even as we bring him our pain and confusion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Welcome to The Dry Well

A friend was telling me about her experience with spiritual dryness, and though I had been walking down this road for almost 20 years and was beginning to come out the other side, I realized that I wasn't doing a great job of encouraging her or helping her make sense of what God was doing. I went online to see what others were saying and found a lot of individual articles, but there were few opportunities on these sites for dialogue.

Spiritual dryness is a universal experience for those who persist in following God, but every story is unique because God is so intensely personal in the way he leads each individual to deeper faith. I created this site because I want to see God's creativity in the ways he has led others to himself through spiritual dryness. I felt very alone during my years in darkness, and I also wish to be an encouragement to those who need help recognizing the good God is doing. Some priorities for The Dry Well:
Ecumenical: I am grateful for the guidance I have received from Roman Catholic writers, who have written most extensively on this subject. I desire for this website to be a meeting place for Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox.
Biblical: There are many ways that the bible reflects on God's perceived absence - from the cries of Job, to many Psalms of David, to Simeon's prayer at the temple with the baby Jesus. I wish to come to a thoroughly biblical perspective of spiritual dryness.
Rooted in Our Humanity: We must learn how to live and love like Jesus, whose life demonstrates how we are to be fully human. I believe that God helps us become more human through the process of spiritual dryness, so I have included a number of pages in the right column under "Reasons for Spiritual Dryness" that discuss the impact of emotional wounds, physiological issues, chronic illness, etc. We are physical, emotional and spiritual beings, and anything that affects these areas affects the way we see God and ourselves.
The Importance of Community: We are also relational beings, and it is essential that we remain in rooted in a church community. Our primary experience of God's love should come from the care we receive from other believers.
The Work of the Holy Spirit: In our search for "spiritual intimacy" and a "personal relationship with God," we can easily get derailed by spiritual ideals that are fueled by our cultural values instead of by God's Word. I believe that the work of the Holy Spirit is the spiritual intimacy we desire, but we must allow scripture to inform who he is and how he relates to us, the church, and the world.
I would love to hear your thoughts about any page or article, or you are welcome to email me with your story.


The name of this site is taken from Thomas Green's When the Well Runs Dry, who named his book after an illustration from St. Theresa of Avila's Autobiography. I never met Fr. Green before he passed away in 2009, but I am grateful for his insight during some of my most difficult years.

The cover image is from the bottom of St. Patrick's Well in Orvieto, Italy (used with permission).