Job's Darkness

He has put darkness on my paths

Into This Dark Night

Job 16:16-17   My face is flushed from weeping, And deep darkness is on my eyelids, Although there is no violence in my hands, And my prayer is pure.

Job 19:8 He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass, And He has put darkness on my paths.

“Into this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the state of beginners– ” (John of the Cross (1542-1591), Dark Night of the Soul. Ch.1).

“Into this dark night souls begin to enter when God draws them forth from the state of beginners – ” and so begins this study of the darkness that God sends, written by a Spanish monk who suffered torture, imprisonment, exile and poverty to reform the Catholic church. Job is not really a beginner, having mastered the Laws of God, he is disciplined, devoted and a leading light to his communtiy. But this journey is something altogether different. The laws of reward and punishment, the rules of blessings and curses have suddenly vanished. Where there should be blessing, there is only darkness, as if a deep malevolent curse had descended up Job.

I myself recently entered a period of darkness. The catalyst was clear, but the impact on my soul was all out of proportion. Most significantly, when I turned to God for help, I seemed to be staring into deep darkness. The darkness unnerved me as no amount of seeking seemed to breach the blackness of it. Seemingly quite by chance I happened to be reading a book by Winkie Pratney which began to discuss the Dark Night of the Soul. I had read Thomas Merton's book by that title several years ago. I recalled his description of traveling as if on a path shrouded in blackness. I suppose I am of a melancholy nature, because it all made perfect sense to me at the time. But the coincidence of this odd turn of study caused me to suddenly become alert. Is this darkness from God Himself?

We know that Job's darkness is from God. “You incited me against him to destroy him” (Job 2:3), God declares to the adversary. When Job cries out, “He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass, And He has put darkness on my paths.” (Job 19:8), he is not mistaken. One of the Christian singers who I particularly like has a sweet song which bothers me no end. He suggests that hurt suffered, that injury to the child is not from God, and yet the Word is clear: “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.” (Psalm 88:8). As in this Psalm, the reasons often seem to make no sense at all. Why has God done this?

A quick side note: I am not interested in debating whether God allows suffering and darkness to continue, by not stopping it, or whether He is an active agent. Does it really matter when you are crying out to God? If God is not there like all of your underlined promises say He will be, if instead of blessing, you get curses, do you not want a little light in your darkness? Job answers well, “Shall windy words have an end?” (Job 16:3), “my prayer is pure” (Job 16:17), “Why should I not be impatient? Look at me and be appalled, and lay your hand over your mouth. When I remember, I am dismayed, and shuddering seizes my flesh.” (Job 21:4-6).

Joel 1:18-20   How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed because there is no pasture for them; even the flocks of sheep suffer. To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.

This suffering, this darkness does not make sense by any standard of biblical counsel. Job's counselors have nothing but windy words, a painful chiding which can shed no light in the darkness. I have heard many preachers quote Job's friends, but in the end God rebukes them, “you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.” (Job 42:7). Job's dark questions to God trump the mis-guided defenses the three friends heave up. Were his darkness the result of sin, they might actually be helpful. But in Job's darkness, their silence would have been the wise choice.


This is Not My Beautiful House

So here you are in darkness. As the popular song says, “this is not my beautiful house”. You have searched for the reason. You have asked close friends for their opinion. And you have spent time on your face before God. If the cause is sin, you think, it is not obvious. Job does not discount the possibility, he just can't see any sin that he has not dealt with. For me, the most disturbing aspect was that the place, formerly warm and inviting, now seemed dark, cold and shut tight against me and without good cause. And so the question arises, could this be from God? Is this the Dark Night of the Soul? How do I know?

Here Winkie Pratney came to my rescue. As I said, I was not expecting anything touching my situation, but his chapter on ‘The Darkness of God: Trusting When You Cannot See’ had me riveted. He begins with this quote from Isaiah:

Isaiah 50:10-11   Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

This quote had previously caught my attention, but in the context of self-assurance leading a person to act without God's input. Pratney makes two points immediately: one, it is clearly addressed to believers, but, second, these are believers in darkness. The prospect of myself, a believer, caught in darkness, creating my own light leading to torment seems frighteningly real. Moreover, when He arrives to address Job, God describes a fearless war horse (Job 39:19-25) which is eager for battle, but waits for the rider. How many believers are so busy stirring up action until slammed into darkness. Still, not content to sit still, they start lighting fires. If the darkness is from God, it means something important. It is important to stop and listen. Job sniffs and snorts, upset at God, he hasn't heard a word of it, and proceeds to sulk in the face of God Himself. God then challenges Job to put things right if he thinks he can (Job 40:11-13). God proceeds to describe two allegorical beasts. One is perfectly connected to God, the other Leviathan has a head full of steam (Job 41:18-21) and he swims in his own light: “Behind him he leaves a shining wake; one would think the deep to be white-haired.” (Job 41:32). Clearly, Job's darkness poses a dangerous choice. Pratney suggests, “The strange thing about this verse (Isaiah 50:10-11) and this kind of darkness is that it happens only to people who are walking with God, who love God, who are not messing around with sin, and who are not ignorant.” (Winkie Pratney, Dealing With Doubt, 1989. Pages 146-147).

There are many instances of darkness in the Bible which are more related to sin, ignorance, or wandering a rebellious path away from the light of God. But this is a unique darkness in that it comes to believers who are attempting to walk according to the Word and who genuinely fear the awesome power and majesty of God. Now let me stop before those such as myself gain too high an opinion of ourselves, presuming the dark night to be only for advancing believers who are sinless, the cause of the dark night is to change our character from our Adamic nature to the godliness to which we are called. Further, even if the acolyte is not wallowing in obvious sin, sin crouches at the door of all who enter this darkness. If you have never encountered the darkness, then either you are not ready yet, or because of you're unique character, God is working on you a different way. I suspicion the former rather than the latter. Pratney suggests, “This is a problem that will happen to ever single Christian who wants to be involved in the work of God, or to any ordinary Christian who has set his heart on pleasing God.” (Pratney, 1989. Page 145).

Before considering what God might be trying to change through your walk through this valley of darkness, we might want to be certain that this is a darkness from God for the purpose of your spiritual transformation, or whether it might be a darkness resulting from deviances of the flesh. First, when the pleasures of God's presence are withdrawn, is there some other pleasure that you are drawn to. Or do old sins, distractions, or worldly comforts seem dry and tasteless. In Job's case, he is not seeking some other comfort, he wants to return to a time of God's lamp upon his path: “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness,” (Job 29:2-3).

The second sign that indicates this darkness is from God, is where your mind goes. When the place in your thoughts formerly inhabited by God becomes dark, God is veiled and unreachable, have you turned away, or remained fixed on the place where you know God is though you cannot see Him. All of Job's speeches indicate a constant wrestling, seeking the face of God. Even when the accusations of his friends interrupt and he stops to answer them, he quickly turns back to calling on God. Chapter twenty-three begins without any answer to Eliphaz at all, “Then Job answered and said: ‘Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.’ ” (Job 23:1-4). This process which Job is going through is a rather lengthy one. In all probability Job has been in misery for a year or two now, but still he is searching for God.

A third and final sign, outlined by John of the Cross, (Dark Night..., Ch.9) is the lack of sensations normally associated with the divine presence. This may seem a less obvious sign, since the darkness suggests a closing off of sensation. But it points to a significant purpose of the darkness, which is to ween the believer from clinging to God because it feels good. God needs believers who willingly face difficulty, sacrifice and hardship, even suffering, simply because it is God's desire that they do so. Pratney poses the question of a young student, “Do Christians really love Christ or do they just love the good feelings that come from loving Christ?” (Pratney, 1989. Page 155). Still sick, homeless and despised, the man of former greatness Job prays for his former friends, not out of warm feelings for his nearest detractors, and not because his fortunes have been restored, but because God says he will, (Job 42:9). God does restore Job's fortunes, but at issue is that Job's character has been radically changed first.



“God leads into the dark night those whom He desires to purify from all these imperfections so that He may bring them farther onward.” (John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul. Ch.2).

Before we look at this process of transformation, we need to look at what to do when the darkness arrives. Pratney's help: “What can you do to get out? Answer: Nothing. Nothing at all. There is nothing you can do to get out of darkness if it is God who put you into it.” (Pratney, 1989. Page 165). This surprising answer took me aback at first, but it makes perfect sense. God has a purpose and until He has accomplished it no amount of prayer, or fasting, or begging, or books, or spiritual advisors can change things. Whatever you do to try to create light in the darkness is of the flesh, and not of God. As Isaiah reports above, if you create light in the darkness, the result will be torment, not comfort.

Simply, walk on as you have always walked, is John's advice, “It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love. This last He will give them by means of that other dark night, that of the spirit, if they merit His bringing them thereto.” (John of the Cross, Dark Night... Ch.10). Caught in darkness, our natural inclination is to freeze, being unsure of our footing, or quickly light a match. You must test the darkness, and if you determine this darkness is from the hand of God, trust God. Trust God and keep walking. It is God's purpose that we should walk on even if the way is unpleasant, and so He would have us keep walking even in the darkness. John of the Cross likens this to the weaning of Isaac (Genesis 21:8). Abraham in his joy throws a feast. Heaven is overjoyed when we learn to walk without the blessings, without any payoff.

And so we get to the purpose of the darkness. There are several aspects of the Christian walk which are hampered by the constant charismatic festival drawing joy and comfort from God. One of these is humility leading to repentance. Plunged into darkness, I immediately began to search my heart to look for all those things which might offend God. Is this not characteristic of our response to any sort of a test? Our sins can carry on or even build when we are happy in the Holy Ghost, but when the joy departs, when the characteristic comfort is no longer there, we start looking for anything we might be doing to displease God.

Closely related to this lack of humility and repentance is our tendency to treat the God of our blessings as a big piñata, whack Him with a prayer and the blessings pour out. The impression is that God is here to serve us. This not only turns the word of God on it's head, but it treats an awesome, powerful and jealous God with fearsome disrespect. A little darkness will quickly bring His servants to heal, and those too double-minded to curb their appetite will simply walk away, create a more likable image of God, a golden calf called “Elohim” (Exodus 32:4). So we see that Job, the most perfect man on earth, is called to humble himself, to lay down all his rights to the promises of God, and realize that on his best days he is nothing but a filthy rag of the worst sort. He may tower over other men, but before God he is an Adamic stink. God isn't seeing past the outside to some golden inside, God is looking down with love for the poor, the wretched, the lame, He will remake those damaged by the fall if we will trust Him. But first...

Isaiah 28:9   To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast?

“Here it is shown that the first milk of spiritual sweetness is no preparation for this Divine influence, neither is there preparation in attachment to the breast of delectable meditations, belonging to the faculties of sense, which gave the soul pleasure; such preparation consists rather in the lack of the one and withdrawal from the other.” (John of the Cross, Dark Night... Ch.12).

When you are ready to be weaned, God will wean you. The school of the Law is over, the school of the Spirit begins. When we are led into the dry places, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the place where the darkness oppresses us, we are desperate for God. And so, suggests John of the Cross, “In this condition, again, souls become submissive and obedient upon the spiritual road, for, when they see their own misery, not only do they hear what is taught them, but they even desire that anyone soever may set them on the way and tell them what they ought to do. The affective presumption which they sometimes had in their prosperity is taken from them; and finally, there are swept away from them on this road all the other imperfections which we noted above with respect to this first sin, which is spiritual pride.” (John of the Cross, Dark Night... Ch.12).

In this place of desolation, we must come to release the clamour for the spiritual gifting which John calls an “inordiante love of spiritual sweetness” and “a spiritual gluttony”, so that oddly we come to peace not by fulness, but by the still waters in the dark shadows (John of the Cross, Dark Night... Ch.13). In my own darkness, I never questioned whether God was there or not. Job never doubts the existance of God or the righteousness and justice of God. Knowing God is there, even when the gifts aren't forthcoming, will eventually bring a patient quiet.


Approaching the Darkness

Exodus 20:21   The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 3:4   When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Did Moses know that God was in the midst of the burning bush? He doesn't appear shocked when he hears a voice call out to him. What was the numinous quality about this burning, an awesome presence which draws the seeker but repels the rebel? God calls to Moses when He sees Moses turn aside. Later we see Moses approach this same mountain of God when God thunders forth from the darkness, but the children of Israel who are now there with him, draw back. We know the story, the people return to camp and create a golden calf whom they call Elohim and proceed to dance and “play”, as the King James nicely says. But this isn't the story of Israel's sin, it is a story about approaching God.

Where is God in this place? Is God in the camp? No! God is on the mountain. Is God shining forth with all of His majesty? No! God is hidden in thick darkness. The people come to meet God, but the place is foreboding: “And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom.” (Deuteronomy 4:11). Moses reminds the people, “you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness” (Deuteronomy 5:23), but the people seeing darkness and gloom fled. Moses heard the voice of God out of the darkness. Moses and Joshua stepped forward to approach the darkness.

Exodus 24:15-18   Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Moses knows that God is in the darkness on the mountain, and Moses knows he is to go there. So Moses goes. This could not have been a comfortable place to be. It says the presence of the Lord resembled a devouring fire at the top of the mountain. Was this heavy lightening, or a volcanic eruption? Or was this something other worldly? It seemed fearsome the people in the camp several miles away. Moses not only steps into the darkness, but he must sit and wait for six days. Moses sits for six days in darkness pierced by terrifying fire. God says nothing. God does nothing. In my own case, I was faced with darkness and knew quickly that God was in it. I had no understanding of why, so the silence was unnerving. Can you imagine Moses sitting in this aweful place and waiting for days?

I am not a person comfortable with waiting. I spent several years living in New York City. The culture of New York is restless and very fast paced. When I came to Texas I was attempting to show a carpenter how to lay out an oddly designed stair when he grabbed me, nearly begging me to slow down. In Texas, you fish and you hunt out of a blind, so you can wait. Life has a much slower pace. But, can you wait for the Lord?

Isaiah 8:17   I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.

Waiting for the Lord happens in one sort of darkness or another. A hurt, an injury, a sickness needs healing and so we cry out. Perhaps we are seeking a deeper relationship with the Lord, but not finding it. Or perhaps some goal is frustrated. There is a wrestling, a calling out for the Lord in the midst of need. The power of God is there. The redemption price has been paid. Our heart reaches up into the heavenlies to the throne of authority. But our feet of clay remain fixed, rooted. We wait.

Let's look at a vivid example of waiting: Mary and Martha. The eleventh chapter of John recounts the story of the death of Lazarus. The two sisters of Lazarus, seeing he is gravely ill, immediately send for Jesus (John 11:3). The reply comes back “This illness does not lead to death” (John 11:4) and Jesus remains where he is. Jesus stays and waits while Mary and Martha watch their brother die. As they wrap their brother for burial and place him in the tomb, their heavy hearts must have hung on the futility of their wait. Jesus has still not come. Jesus begins his journey only when he knows that Lazarus is dead. The disciples must have been concerned at this odd behavior. We see from Thomas's remark, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”, that they all must have loved Lazarus. Anne Graham Lotz has a book on this very event entitled Why? This is the elephant in the room. “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:20-21). Martha then goes to Mary, who surely knows that Jesus is nearby, she takes her aside and tells her that Jesus is calling for her. Mary goes to him. “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:32). Can you hear it? If only... If only... They are asking why Lord?

Why? Why seek the Lord in darkness? Why not loaves and fishes on demand? Why not healing when we ask? Why does the enemy not bow before us? Why is this good man, Job, shivering in the darkness, reviled by his friends?


Pressing In

Lamentations 3:6   he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.

Lamentations 3:8   though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;

Job 16:16-17   My face is red with weeping, and on my eyelids is deep darkness, although there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure.

There is a close resemblance between Jeremiah's Lamentations chapter 3 and Job chapter 16. Both carry the sense of violence at the hand of God and enforced by men. Both have a surprisingly hopeful twist: “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.” (Lamentations 3:58). And Job's remarkable statement: “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.” (Job 16:19), which Job will follow with the stunning statement, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. (Job 19:25). Neither Jeremiah or Job is confused as to the existence of God or that God is in control of the situation. While neither man truly understands his suffering, both know that God is loving and just and that they will be redeemed.

Neither man is looking for a way around God. This is important. They are pressing directly into God. Calling on God. Asking to be heard. Asking to hear. Despite desperate trials there is no resignation, there is no retreat to some other comfort. In Job's case we know that Satan's purpose is to cause Job to deny God. This could mean to deny God's existence, or it could mean to deny His love, His wisdom, His ability or desire to intervene. Satan want's Job to believe there is no God. Failing that he will settle for belief in God as a disengaged or fractured power (Open Theism, Panentheism, Supreme Atman, The Force), a withdrawn God (Deism, Death of God), a God of heavy burdens (works righteousness, Islam), a bi-polar God (Dualism, Zoroastrianism) and the list goes on. What Satan does not want is trust in the goodness, wisdom and power of God in the face of desperate darkness. Job refuses his wife's call to curse God (Job 2:9). He dismisses the vision of Eliphaz which paints man as insignificant to God (Job 4:12-21). As for the question of God's anger, Job knows that God is not capricious, but is just, so Job knows that he will be vindicated (Job 23:10).

Job is in a very difficult circumstance. His understanding of God is being assailed. In his gut and from everything he has ever been taught, Job knows that God is just. Job knows that he has been following God's will. And yet it appears that Job is being severly punished. His friends assure him that he is being punished and demand that Job fess up for the secret sin. Job has asked all the questions. Did I miss something? Can you show me my fault? answer. Is God searching through the rubbish of my youth, to bring charges against me in my old age? answer. Logic and reason has come to an end. Job is still suffering horribly. Job's friends keep coming back to revile him. By reason of his circumstances, Job has every reason to complain. He has done everything right. Job doesn't know it, but God's boasting to Satan about how well Job has performed has set up Job's present nightmare.

There is nothing that Job can do. He has waited in silence (Job 2:13). He has petitioned God. He has cried out of his depths, “Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?” (Job 7:21). Now he grows bold. Stepping forward he challenges God, where is my sin?!

Job 13:14-15   Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand? Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

“I take my flesh in my teeth”. I will take up my defense, as a cat defends her kittens, I take my life in my own hands and stand before the almighty. My hope is in God. His friends are appalled at the brazenness of Job's challenge, but really what is Job to do?

Job is struggling with God, wrestling. I am also a wrestler. I was briefly a wrestler in high school, but for all my life I have wrestled with questions about God, the Word and the church. Moses was a wrestler. Jacob (in the end) was a wrestler. Martha was a wrestler. The wrestler faces all the confusion and doubt, faces the darkness, and keeps looking for God.

Moses was a hot head and a murderer. Jacob a deceiver and a cheat. The most we know of Martha is her complaining. But all three kept pressing into God. All three continued to face the place where the fearful presence of God was. Moses approached the burning bush, and he stepped into to the darkness of the mountain of God. Jacob returned to face his brother, wrestling all night with the angel of God. And there is Martha... her brother has died, so when Jesus, who she knows could have saved her brother from death, finally arrives, Martha quickly arises to meet him. Martha wants to know why Lazarus had to die? Why, Jesus? Why, God?

1 Kings 8:51&53   (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace)... For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage...

Isaiah 48:10   Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

Isaiah 33:14-17   Sinners in Zion are terrified; Trembling has seized the godless. “Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?” He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity, He who rejects unjust gain And shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe; He who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed And shuts his eyes from looking upon evil; He will dwell on the heights, His refuge will be the impregnable rock; His bread will be given him, His water will be sure. Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will behold a far-distant land.

Zechariah 13:8-9   In the whole land, declares the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “The LORD is my God.”

The important question is this, is the Moses who stood on the threshold of Canaan, the same man who slew the Egyptian? Is Israel the same man as Jacob, the deceiver? Is Martha at the tomb, the same woman who pours out the ache of her heart, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (Luke 11:21). Just the chapter before she asks, “Lord, do you not care...” (Luke 10:40). Mary doesn't even rise to meet Jesus until called. The disciples all pose the same question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). On more than one occasion I have had to sit and suffer before a thick veil, desperate for God's answer. I would rather not go back to those places, but I can honestly say, “Thank you, Lord”. I imagine Abraham shaking as he lays down the sacrificial knife. Thank you Abraham.

Through his entire ordeal Job keeps leaning into God and seeking all that he knows to be true of God. This is a grueling exercise, likely played out over years. This was not about a smug bet between God and Satan, (for Satan it was). For Job, the result is a transformation of his character. Job is able to honestly intercede for those who spitefully use him (Job 42:9-10). He has been refined.


*All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.
Wm.W.Wells – March 22, 2010

Copyright © 2010 Wm.W.Wells. May be freely copied without alteration.