The whole purpose of the "dark night of the soul and spirit" is to bring us to an intimacy with our Lord that we have never before experienced.
Many wonder if it's even possible to intimately know the God of the universe. They say, "Can we truly fellowship with Him moment by moment? Can we really experience His presence?"
Well, the Bible says we can. And we must. Isaiah 5:13 tells us that God's people will "go into captivity" if they don't know Him intimately. "Captivity" simply means bondage. It means that the soulish things in our lives will keep us captive and prevent us from experiencing the full union with Christ that God desires. Hosea 4:6 goes even further and warns us that if there is no intimacy, "we will be destroyed."
If we're really honest with ourselves, many of us would have to admit that we have no idea what it means to know God intimately. We have become "born again," we know we are "positionally" united with Him and we have even borne some fruit, but very few of us really have any clue as to what "intimate knowledge of God" means. Very few of us really understand what it means to dwell in His presence, or to experience the ecstasy of seeing Him.
Listen to what Alan Redpath says in his book Victorious Christian Faith:
"I had known, believed and preached (about Christ) for many years... but I had become more concerned about knowledge of faith than about knowledge of God. To me God had become more of a theoretical and doctrinal figure, than a saving, experiential companion."
And Ezekiel 33:31 states, "...they come unto Thee...they sit before Thee as My people, and they hear Thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness."
We do the same. We talk about "intimacy" and many of us pray earnestly for it and exhort others to it, but how many of us really have that daily, personal, intimate union with God that the Bible talks about? How many of us are willing to be stretched to that degree? How many of us are willing to "off load" the baggage that prevents our knowing God to such a degree?
Most of us know God by what we have read about Him and by what we have been told about Him, but still it's an intellectual knowledge, and it lacks spiritual experience. The Lord is not the most important thing in our lives - our spouses, our children, our families, our relationships, our homes, our jobs, our goals and our aspirations are! And this is the reason we are faltering, failing and getting destroyed when our faith is tested to the max. This is why we are crumbling in our night seasons.
As I look at the Church as a whole today, I grieve because most believers are only experiencing a fraction of the fulness of God that the Bible speaks about. As Oswald Chambers laments in his book Abandoned to God (speaking about the Christians he knew at the time):
I knew no one who had what I wanted...but I [also] knew that if what I had was all the Christianity there was, [then] the thing was a fraud.
And he is so right. So many churches strive not for intimacy with God, but rather for experience, power, prophecy and miracles; for rituals and methods; for debates over doctrine; for the business of church building and all the other soulish endeavors of intellectualism and impressive preaching. These are some of the substitutes that we have entangled ourselves in that have replaced our own personal, intimate relationship with God. Consequently, many of us know about Christ and we possess His Name (we have "beginning knowledge" of Him), but very few of us really intimately know Him.
Therefore, because God loves us so much, He often takes matters into His own hands and begins to allow situations in our lives that will put us on the journey towards "intimacy" and towards experiencing His fulness. God desires to commune and fellowship with us in the innermost part of our being where He now dwells (John 14:23; Ephesians 3:17-19). He doesn't save us only to show us how much He loves us; He saves us so that we can get to know Him intimately and begin to return that love (Philippians 3:10).
Experiential Oneness with God
This deeper experiential merging of our spirit with God's is what the dark night of the spirit is all about. Oneness with God in our spirit is the climax of our relationship with Him. At this point, we not only have positionally become one, but experientially become one (even if it's just for a moment). This is the completion, the perfection and the fulness of God that He has designed for every one of us. Everything on the inside and on the outside has finally become Christ's.
As John 17 expresses it, "...That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us...Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me... (verses 21, 24)."
An Example: Madame Guyon
Few people in history have attained the high degree of intimacy with the Lord that Madame Guyon managed to reach and write about. This Godly lady, who lived in the 1600s, was persecuted every step of her life and her career. She was forsaken by all her friends and acquaintances, betrayed by her family and even deserted by the Church. She was born and reared in the Roman Catholic Church, yet she was tormented, afflicted, maltreated, abused and imprisoned for years by the same. Her sole crime was that of supreme devotion and unmeasured attachment to Christ. She loved Him with her whole being.
As a solitary woman, it's amazing to see how she subverted all the machinery of the kings, laughed to scorn the papal inquisition and silenced and confounded the more learned religious establishment of the day. While she was enjoying oneness with Christ, they were floundering in darkness. The only dignitary that opened his heart to her and extended a hand was Archbishop Fenelon. Over his objections, the Church imprisoned her for ten years. Her punishment was to write out her view of Christianity. They had intended to try her in court on these records. God, however, had another plan. He used her writings to preserve her thoughts and deeper experiences with Christ for posterity. Her writings were subsequently put into many books - Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, Union with God, Final Steps in Christian Maturity, and Song of the Bride, just to mention a few.
It was in Jeanne Guyon's books and St. John of the Cross's books that I first heard the term "the dark night of the soul." Although I am neither a Catholic nor a mystic, God used these precious saints to let me know that I was not alone in what I was experiencing. Others before me had endured such a "night season" and had come out even stronger and closer to the Lord because of it.
Thus, whenever I think of someone who truly knew what it meant to be "one" with Him and experience His fulness, Jeanne Guyon is the one who comes to my mind. She shows us that no matter what our circumstances are, no matter how we feel or what we think, we can still experience intimacy with Him.
An Analogy: The Act of Love
A perfect analogy of this oneness might be "the act of love" in a marriage. In a marriage, women can make love with their husbands, enjoy it and even bear children without ever having experienced the fulness, the intimacy and the ecstasy of complete union with their loved one. Positionally, yes, they are one with their husbands, but experientially they don't have the slightest clue as to what it means to really become "one."
As I travel and teach across the country, I am constantly amazed at how many wives come up to me and share this very thing. They love their husbands, they are happy in their marriages and they have children, but they never have really known the indescribable euphoria that occurs when two people truly become one, not just physically, but also spiritually and emotionally. All other thoughts, worries, pressures, circumstances are, for a moment, set aside as two people are completed - body, soul and spirit. God has designed the marriage act as a little bit of heaven here on earth.
In like manner, with our union with Christ, we can be born again and possess Christ's Life and His Spirit in our hearts, but not until we fully abandon ourselves to Him will we ever experience the ecstasy that goes along with full and complete union of our spirits. This kind of intimacy is what real love is all about!
Throughout Scripture, marriage is used to symbolically represent our union with God. This is one of God's "word pictures." It's a piece of life that we can all understand and relate to. I believe God designed the euphoria of the climax of the marriage act to be exactly what He desires our intimacy with Him to be like. Only when we experience the union of our spirit with God's, will our spiritual marriage with Him be completed or perfected so that we are able to really know and understand the fulness of Christ.
As Ephesians and Colossians exhorts us: "...know the Love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:19)." And that, "Christ [may be] all, and in all (Colossians 3:11)." At this point, we are united, fused and intermingled - just like a piece of wood in a fire (John 17:21-26). We have become enveloped and possessed by Him. Now, please don't misunderstand me. We never experience this complete union of our spirits permanently. There will always be more sin and self for us to deal with. Only Jesus could enjoy permanent union with the Father because He was God. Full, eternal and incorruptible union happens only when we reach heaven. But we can begin to experience, in an ever-increasing depth, the completeness and the fulness of Christ that Scripture talks about. If we deal with the sin and self that God daily shows us, then we'll be able to experience His presence more and more. Jesus tells us that this oneness, completion and perfection (Hebrews 6:1) is the goal of our instruction.
Knowing God Intimately
In the Bible, there are two Greek words for the word "to know." They are ginosko, which means "beginning knowledge," and oida, which means "intimate, experiential knowledge." Intimacy means a constant, continuous communion and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. It's experiencing His leading, His guiding and His anointing continually. Intimate knowledge of God is dwelling in His presence, no matter what our circumstances and experiencing a peace and a joy that passes all human understanding (Psalm 16:11).
Like Madame Guyon, once we have come to experience the ecstasy and the euphoria that surrounds us when we abide in the presence of Jesus, the God of the universe, nothing else matters in life. As the Psalmist says, "His loving-kindness [becomes] better than life (Ps 63:3)." Intimacy with God is truly the climax of our Christian walk.
We are the ones, however, who determine the degree of intimacy we will have with God. We can be as close to Him as we choose to be. If we want intimacy, the question becomes, are we willing to pay the price for it?
* * *
This article has been excerpted in part from Chuck and Nan's book, Faith in the Night Seasons.