The supreme test, however, of our confidence in God lies perhaps, in those moments of complete inner darkness in which we feel as though we were forsaken by God. Our heart feels blunt; our prayers for strength and inspiration sound hollow, they seem plainly to be of no avail; wherever we look our glance perceives but our impotence and, as it were, an impenetrable wall separating us from God.
We doubt our being called; we appear to ourselves rejected and abandoned by God. It is in such moments, when we are most tempted to part with our confidence in God, that we need it most. An ardent belief in His love; a steadfast conviction that He is near to us even though we are, or imagine ourselves to be, far away from Him; an unbroken awareness that ‘he has first loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 Jn 4:10)—these must carry us across the chasm of darkness and lend us strength to blindly let ourselves fall into His arms.
Our confidence in God must be independent of whether we experience His nearness, whether we sense the enlivening touch of grace, whether we feel being borne by the wings of His love. Has not God too much overwhelmed us with graces to allow us to forget them even for a moment? How could our present aridity obscure the irrevocably valid proofs of God’s grace, or make us doubt the primary truth that God has created us and redeemed us out of love, and that there is no darkness that cannot be lit up by His light?
Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ
Reflection – Another great post from a great man and Christian. I do a lot of spiritual direction, you know—it’s probably the single biggest work I do, time-wise—and I can verify the immense truth of this passage not only from my own life but from the lives and testimonies of many of ‘my’ people. It really and truly is when everything falls apart, inwardly and spiritually, that our confidence in God and our life of faith is most tested, and in that test, most strengthened.
I write this, though, and read von Hildebrand’s well-chosen words, realizing that it is precisely at those moments, precisely during those times of inner darkness and turmoil, that the words of others are of little avail, that words themselves (much as pains authorial me to say it) can do very little to illuminate and console. Words fail us, at such moments.
No, it is part of the suffering of this time that does indeed come to every faithful individual sooner or later, that when we are most deprived of the interior light of our own intellectual certainty or sense of confidence in God, it is precisely then that the light of truth and confidence of others can do little to help us.
But while this is a heavy thing—there’s no question about it, it is heavy—it is not a sad, gloomy thing at all. God is, as it turns out, bigger than our little minds and our little hearts. God’s grace, while more often than not working in concert with our frail, pale humanity, can indeed operate in the depths of our beings when all our human resources and human capacities fail utterly.
And in fact, this is the great moment when we learn this truth. And there is no other real way to learn it. Reading it in a book or on a blog (ahem) is all well and good and may help us vaguely, but we don’t know that God is God, real and alive and active and utterly sovereign over all, until we have been left with nothing else and all consolations and interior conviction of this has been taken away by this or that circumstance.
This is, as I understand it, what John of the Cross means by his dark nights, although I would caution both myself and anyone else that there is a great deal more to that saint’s doctrine than any of us can understand until we have gone up that mountain as he did.
But it remains a simple fact, albeit a searing, soaring, terrible one, that God must, and God does, plunge us into this kind of darkness, and that until he does so, we are paddling around in the shallows of faith, coming to God because he makes us feel good or gives us this or that blessing. When God is not making us feel good at all and seems to be giving us nothing, and we still come to Him… that is when true faith and true love begin to flourish in depth and in truth in us.
So that’s a nice little light thought for you for a mid-November day. Year of Faith, folks, drawing to a close, and there we have it—the way of faith and love in this world.