Coming to terms with the great unknowing through the dark night of the soul blog image from jonhorton.com

Coming to terms with the great unknowing through the dark night of the soul

For as long as I can remember, I’ve despised not knowing. At times it’s driven me to perfectionism, wanting to get everything just right, crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s.

I don’t like speaking about things I’m not familiar with. I don’t want to be caught without an answer or mindless bullshitting my way through some topic. I see way too many people do this. Whether online, or on a stage, or at a church.

People are gullible. They buy into everything too easily. To counter my fearing of being duped by some charismatic character, I arm myself with knowledge. I dig into learning. I read, I connect the dots, I form opinions.

This has served me well for most of my life. I can make compelling points, debate the merits of particular topics, and arduously defend my views.

I’ve heard it said that knowing is half the battle, but what if our journey through life is less about knowing with absolutes and certainty—and more about surrender.

Years of frustration and depression—of feeling lost and unsettled have an uncanny way of disrupting your sense of knowing it all and having a plan. They have a way of forcing you to see what we so desperately try to overcome: that we can’t control a thing.

Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we're going

I happen to believe that there’s a reason for this madness—an intentional force driving these moments that happen in many of our lives. I believe that this force is the creator of our universe. A being, an essence that cannot be confined to words or understanding. Because the moment we can define this source of all life, it ceases to be beyond description. And what kind of god would that be? Certainly not one that I want to follow.

This divine being revealed himself to the ancient Hebrew nation as YHWH. An utterance so sacred that it is said they removed the vowels so as not to profane the name by saying it in its entirety. Often translated as Yahweh or sometimes Yahuah, the very meaning of this name is “I am, I was, I will be.”

In the 14th century, an anonymous Christian mystic penned a work called the cloud of unknowing. While it’s a guide on contemplative prayer, the underlying meaning present in the book is that In order to know God we must abandon all of our perceived ideas, notions, and attributes of this God and surrender our mind to the unknowing. It is said that only at this point can we begin to glimpse the nature of God. I believe this description is just the start to understanding this divine source of life called Yahweh.

The idea is that this cloud of unknowing is dark. Many will compare it to the experience of a dark night of the soul. When we unpack this idea of dark, it’s not dark in the sense that there is no light or that it’s evil—it’s simply that what’s happening is obscured from our view.

Maybe that’s happening to you as it has to myself. A season of life that has you questioning where God is. Why would He allow such difficult things to happen. Disillusionment, abandonment, uncertainty, depression, death. Where your world is in chaos and everything is unfamiliar.

Perhaps it’s in these seasons where we can’t see how God is at work, that he’s doing the ultimate work in the depths of our souls. To get us to the point where we get to the end of ourselves and realize that has absolutely nothing to do with our work, but rather the work that God is doing within us. And often that work can’t be done by us. It has to be done through us.

In my own journey this is a path toward trust, or perhaps what some of us are more familiar with: faith.

This is the reason why we lose control, not because God desires that we grovel before him but because the tremendous new thing which is taking place in us can only be his work.

We go through life, thinking we control so many things. We lead, we pursue our purpose, we set out to change the world and do great things. But what if those things are just a mirage—something we do to feel self important? Something that drives our need for achievement and accomplishment. Something that feeds our pride and ego.

In discovering this picture of the cloud of unknowing, I came across this idea: “What we should be concerned about is letting God become the absolute Lord of our lives. This is the real goal which we should set before ourselves, and this is the goal towards which He works in the whole of our interior lives.”

The interior life is not a question of seeing extraordinary things, but rather seeing ordinary things with the eyes of God.”

This work is difficult, it’s weighty. It feels like it will never end. But what if on the other side is a new found hope and confidence that despite all of our attempts to do good things, it’s actually the almighty Yahweh who is doing great things within us.

In the book “When the Well Runs Dry”, Thomas Green articulates it this way: “this new confidence is itself the immediate proximate goal of the whole experience of the dark night. It is a total, unquestioning trust that God is God, that he does love us more than we love ourselves and that he is truly working in us to bring to perfection the good work that he has begun in us. It is the trust of the child and his father, unquestioning and unconditional even though the father's intentions are totally mysterious to the child.”

Maybe you came here looking for answers about your own journey through this dark night. As someone who has been down that road, I wish I had the perfect answer—but I don’t.

On my path, I had to come to terms with this cloud of unknowing. To relinquish my need for control and answers to the never satisfied questions of “why, God?” It is through this surrender that I’m learning to trust that the “I am, I was, I will be” is always working things our for my good and His glory, and never one without the other.

I don’t have all the answers. The ones I thought I had don’t really suffice anymore, and that’s ok. I’m learning to be at peace with obscure places and the ones that are clear. The darkness that reminds me I'm not in control and I don't have to be. The darkness that makes the light sweeter. The darkness that makes the common place and ordinary bright. The darkness that can bring peace and joy in the middle of difficulty.

I’m deciding on an intentional trust in this almighty God called Yahweh. With a resoluteness in my mind and a fire in my heart that the one who started this work in me will be faithful to complete it.

I no longer have to control the outcome. I no longer have to make things work. Now I have the much more difficult yet more fulfilling journey of trust. I’ve opened the door, and I can’t go back.

I hope that you will join me.

January 03, 2022