A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article at Desiring God called, “The Shadow We Cannot Shake: What to Do When Darkness Remains.” In it, Scott Hubbard takes a number of paths to reach a particular point about how we ought to orient our struggle with spiritual darkness.
When I read this article, my soul was disquieted by it. That’s not unusual – I often feel that sort of thing at a gut level, and I’ve learned to pay attention to that unsettled inkling. It’s a signal found amidst all the noise, and that signal alerts me to wounds of the soul.
Scott’s main point may be stated thusly: when darkness remains, seek God more diligently, more relentlessly, more unyieldingly. God’s blessing can come to us without seeking, to be sure. But, “very often they [our efforts] are the divinely appointed means of experiencing his blessing.”
It sounds noble. It sounds godly. It sounds like the right thing at a certain level. And for some, surely they are in a place where they have the conscious ability to break through a temporary fog in that way.
But the fog is the primary daily experience for those of us who have known a more obsessive-compulsive spirituality. That is, those of us who have earnestly sought a purely spiritual remedy to a problem that was oh so much more complex than that. The very fact that we sought God in that way could have clued us into the idea that more layers were involved, but we didn’t have the awareness for it.
In the fog, we do indeed experience spiritual darkness. It makes sense. But there are other types of darkness at play as well, which play into the way we experience God and spirituality.
Starting from the spiritual layer of it, though, we could consider it from the vantage point of the already/not-yet tension we find in the New Testament. In Christ, we are already forgiven, justified, and perfect. But, our daily experience does not yet match that reality that God has declared.
In the fog, we are often fixated on the not-yet and almost blind to the already. Usually, that’s because we’re wired with that predisposition – the neural networks in our brains lean toward the negative. That negativity could be founded in past, present, or future. Regardless, even reaching down to our subconscious, the well-worn paths of our brains run that direction, so we get stuck there.
Ignoring a brain-level problem by defining it in spiritual terms will cause those dwelling in the fog to continue the same thought patterns. Scott includes a list of questions we should ask ourselves, as to whether we’re doing enough, submitting enough, seeking enough – all of those will feed the same cycle.
You see, we can travel that road for a while. And to be sure, it is definitely a road many of us have found within that very fog we’re attempting to escape. That road has many twists and turns, some backtracking parts, and ends in a swamp of anxious self-consciousness.
The darkness gets deeper. How many more hidden sins do I need to confess – even hidden from me, that I’m not aware of yet? How long will God leave me in this condition where my soul cries out but does not hear an answer? Was my inner voice correct all along, and all the people experiencing God’s blessing now are just that much better than I am?
Pressing against that wall further simply fuels the anxiety and makes it worse. Or deepens the depression. It pressures us to fix our minds, when we do not have the conscious ability or energy to do so. We may have a baseline, chronic mental wellness issue that we can’t just reason our way past.
In the fog, we live each day in the reality that our emotional state (or mental state in general) does not necessarily match what it is supposed to. But we do have real, active feelings, and we have to find some way to validate what we feel. In other words, we should acknowledge that what we feel is a real emotion that has real effects on how we are continuing to perceive God, life, hope, people, and everything else.
But even though we know that the “already” of being in Christ does not yet permeate our daily existence, we can and should look to practice growing awareness of it. That’s what will end up balancing us spiritually, even if our daily experience does not improve.
When reading articles like that, the encouragement therein can have the opposite effect – that is, to add to our shame. When you feel that disquiet of the soul, it’s ok to explore that.
Sometimes, we need to bring ourselves back to the basics, to Hebrews 2, and remember that he is not ashamed of us, even though we sojourn in a foggy domain.