Sunday, January 19, 2014

"When God Walks Off the Stage"

Frank Viola has a beautiful meditation on the experience of the Dark Night of the Soul, when God removes our sense of His Presence from our soul in order to infuse His Grace, so we can know Him as He is, rather than as we imagine Him to be.

When God Walks Off the Stage

A Christian in the sixteenth century coined the term the dark night of the soul. This phrase refers to an experience when God removes the “sense” of His presence from a believer’s life.

Some Christians believe that the “dark night” is an exotically rare experience that few people have. Others believe it’s much more common.

I tend to be in the camp that believes it’s rare.

The dark night is when God tosses out the moral compass from a believer’s life. The Christian feels as though God doesn’t exist.

This is neither a dry spell nor a punishment. Instead, it feels as though God has left. The inner consciousness of the Lord’s presence is swept away without warning, and only a blind reliance on past faith saves the Christian from becoming an atheist.

This is not the consequence of sin or rebellion. In fact, it has nothing to do with a believer’s conduct at all.

Here are the words of a person who is experiencing the dark night:

“I feel like a non-Christian. He’s just not there anymore. I never noticed His presence until it left me. Now I long for it again. I feel like the ground under me has been ripped away. My joy is gone. I feel out of control. My spiritual feelings are dull. I’ve lost interest in and affection for God. When I try to speak to Him, it feels like I’m talking to myself or to the ceiling. Prayer once came easy; I talked to the Lord all the time. Now it’s forced. It feels like there’s a big wall between me and God. My love for the Lord has been replaced by a blank. I never knew what God’s presence felt like until it was removed from me. I cry a lot now. I want Him to return to me again.”

Some have called the dark night “a game of love” where God plays hide-and-seek. Others view it as a sign of spiritual maturity and development where God is removing the training wheels.

In such cases, the Lord is teaching His children how to know Him apart from feelings. He’s seeking to show them a new way of relating to Him—one that is more mature and doesn’t rely on anything but faith.

If, perchance, you’re going through this mysterious experience right now, the one piece of advice I can give you is this: Keep in mind that the dark night is simply a crisis and pathway to greater spiritual maturity. God is still with you. In fact, He’s behind this experience. The overarching purpose is redemptive and constructive.

I will not expound on the dark night beyond the above except to illustrate one point.

Let’s return to our nose analogy. During the course of the day, you are virtually unconscious of the presence of your nose. The exception is when you have a sniffle, a nose itch, a nosebleed, or when you look in the mirror.

But if you were to have surgery and your nose was removed, you would certainly be conscious that something essential was missing. And that consciousness would remain for quite a long time.

As I said in the opening of this chapter, there is something called “the background consciousness of God’s presence.” If God were to remove this background consciousness, you would know it immediately. The background consciousness of God’s presence is largely undetected and unnoticed by us Christians.

We don’t recognize it for one simple reason: It’s always present. It’s not dissimilar to why you don’t notice the ring on your finger or the watch on your wrist at every moment. You don’t notice it because it’s always there.

However, if the consciousness of God’s ever-abiding presence were removed, it would register heavily upon you. (This is what happens when someone experiences the dark night of the soul.) So in one regard, we are always conscious of the divine presence in that we are used to it. The light of God is always on. But it looms in the background.

Yet at another level, we can be deliberately conscious of His presence. We can be focused on His presence in the foreground. We can be attentive to it.

“Be still and know that I am God” . . . “He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” . . . “He whose mind is set on me will have perfect peace” . . . “But the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

Open the Scriptures and set your mind on the Lord.
Viola points out that we are all aware, on some level, of God's presence in our soul-- “the background consciousness of God’s presence.” I believe it is true of non-believers as well. The truth is that Christians and non-Christians experience this awareness of Him-- He is closer to us that we are to ourselves-- but we often don't understand what His Presence is, or even that it is His Presence.

If our sense of His Presence were removed, we would feel it immediately, as agony and hopelessness. Yet there are times when He must remove our sense of it-- even though His Presence always abides in this life-- because our sense of His Presence interferes with our actual experience of Him. He must clear away the accoutrements so that we may know Him as He is, just as He knows us.

Is the Dark Night of the Soul, even mild and brief, a common occurrence for Christians, or a purgatory in this life reserved only for the most devout of saints? I don't know. I'm afraid to experience a loss of my sense of His Presence. Yet this is, I think, something we all must go through, in one way or another, in order to see Him face to Face.

Perhaps that is why we fear death, not merely because we fear non-existence in itself (we non-existed prior to conception), but because at death we fear that we will be forsaken, either to non-existence or to damnation-- we imagine that we will lose Him.


  1. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJanuary 19, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    I also think it must be rare. Looking back to my decades as a nonbeliever, it still amazes me how present God was in my life even then, yet I had no conscious sense of His presence. I was blind, but now I see. But, as McLuhan wryly noted:
    We don't know who discovered water, but we know it wasn't the fish.

    Once consciously sensed, though, the mere thought of the withdrawal of that presence is too terrifying to imagine.

    If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into.
    --- Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

    Only saints can withstand it.

  2. Yes, there is GOD. He is the one who is always guiding us to our everyday life. Without Him, life would be worthless. spiritual thoughts

  3. Well, no, actually, there isn't a God. But the long dark night of the soul is perfectly understandable. It is what happens when a believer realizes, not that God walked off the stage, but rather was never on the stage to begin with. It isn't that, as a result of God walking off the stage, the believer begins to doubt God's existence; the doubt is the initial cause of the dark night of the soul. Thus the believer comes smack up against existentialism, which is a good thing. He is on his or her way to being freed of deranged superstitions. Note, too, how twisted and sadistic this (non-existent) God that Egnor touts is. Supposedly he walks off the stage, even though the believer did nothing wrong! I guess he just wants to torture the believer a bit for his own amusement, as he did Job. The God of the bible is, of course, wicked; but also made up, like Lex Luthor.

    1. How can something be wicked, in a universe without purpose?

    2. Easy. Good, evil and other normative concepts are products of the human mind, arising partly from our evolved nature though also mediated by shared culture and history. Take away minds, and nothing is good or evil. A gamma-ray bursters devastates wide swaths of the cosmos around it. If one should occur several light years from earth, we would be toast. But that is not good or evil. It's just a physical process. However, if God exists, and the gamma-ray burster wipes out an inhabited world, God is fully responsible for that annihilation, either because he made it happen or failed to stop it even though he could. The problem of evil, and especially natural evils, defeats all attempts to absolve God of ultimate responsibility for evil in the world. However, since God does not exist, then nothing is good or evil in the world except in the context of sentience, and is fully understandable in that context.

  4. By the way, although the universe does not have a purpose, humans do. We make our own purposes for our own ends, while alive. Thus atheism does not, as some atheist philosophers hold, entail moral nihilism. I do appreciate your not censoring comments at variance with your own views.

    1. I've heard this so often it hurts. I'm not convinced most atheists have thought through the implications. Consider the following:

      By the way, although the universe does not have a God, humans do. We make-believe our own God for our own ends, while alive. Thus atheism does not, as some atheist philosophers hold, entail not believing in God

      The idea being - God doesn't exist, but we can pretend He does and it makes our lives more fulfilling. Most atheists would be appalled by this display of willful ignorance (insanity even?)
      Either God exists or He doesn't. It's that simple. If we're going to be realists, lets not be "fair weather realists".

      Similarly, either there is purpose or there isn't. The atheist admits that there is a purposeless Universe in which only matter exists... and yet suggests that we humans invent purpose for the sake of enriching our lives. New Atheists play realist on the offense, and pragmatist on the defense. "Making our own purpose to make life better" is no different than "Making our own Santa-Claus to make Christmas better". Either there is purpose, or there isn't, and all of us have to own up to the consequences.

      - C

  5. Incidentally, Dr. Egnor, I should like to show you at some point that it is not necessary to invoke intelligent design to reconcile Christian theism with evolution. This is because, although it's true that humans are a contingent and not necessary product of evolution, this is only on a narrow-scope reading of ontology. If Christian ontology is true, then humans are contingent on a narrow-scope reading of evolution but inevitable on a wide-scope reading, without any ID intervention necessary. In fact the wide-scope necessity of humans appearing under Christian theism, even if our appearance was contingent on a narrow-scope reading, is entailed by long-standing Christian metaphysics.

  6. Yes, the universe does not have a purpose, but humans have their own purposes.Why is this hard for you to understand? An example: Saturn orbits the sun. It does not intend to do so, nor is orbiting the sun its purpose. By contrast, I write this post, because my purpose is to rebut what you wrote. You can't see the difference between the two?

    1. So then the universe does have purpose? There are two different claims, and we should decide which one we're talking about

      1) Humans make their purpose
      2) Humans discover their purpose

      In the former case, my point still stands. We're creating a new concept out of thin air - literally wishing it into existence - and taking it as axiomatic in a Universe which we know is mindless, purposeless, and consists entirely of matter which behaves according to fixed rules.

      If it's the second claim you're making, then this is a broadly Aristotelian position most Theists would agree with. What endows us with purpose? What is it about this particular combination of particles which gives us something otherwise lacking? How do we know what our purpose is? And what makes you so sure purpose is exclusive to us? Is that not a little anthropocentric?

      - C

    2. Minds have purposes. Minds evolved. Natural selection forces evolved animals to have purposes, such as, stalking an animal to eat it, a goal with a method, because those animals that failed to acquire such elementary purposes would be weeded out of the gene pool. Non-minds have no purposes. Also, I do not think that matter obeys any fixed rules at all. This confuses the prescriptive with the descriptive. The inverse square law does not force matter to behave in a certain way in gravitation fields. Rather, matter behaves a certain way in a gravitation field, and the inverse square law describes, but does not prescribe, its behavior.

    3. he inverse square law does not force matter to behave in a certain way in gravitation fields. Rather, matter behaves a certain way in a gravitation field, and the inverse square law describes, but does not prescribe, its behavior.

      Hah, I was just railing on about this earlier. Yea absolutely. The fixed rules thing was an assumption - most materialists are determinists.

      Natural selection forces evolved animals to have purposes, such as, stalking an animal to eat it, a goal with a method


      Minds have purposes

      Minds, eh?

      - C

    4. I am formerly anonymous, in posts above. Yes, minds conceive purposes. Your objections?

      As to determinism, you may be right that most materialists are determinists, but materialism in now way entails determinism, especially the silly hard determinism of folks like Jerry Coyne. Are you familiar with the Strong Free Will Theorem?

    5. Yes, minds conceive purposes. Your objections?

      What are we talking about when we talk about 'minds'? Are minds brains?

      Are you familiar with the Strong Free Will Theorem?

      I was not, until I found this article.
      I don't want to prematurely write this off, but I have a hard time seeing how Quantum Mechanics has anything to do with free will.

      - C

    6. C:

      There is an interesting correlation between the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and the Aristotelian/Thomist understanding of knowledge. I've got a post on it in the queue at ENV, and I'll put it up here when it goes up there.

    7. Dr. Egnor,

      Thanks I'll look into it! Big fan of all your ENV articles

      - C