When God Stops Talking: The Dark Night of the Soul


Does it ever feel like God has stopped talking to you? How do you react to that? Do you panic? Do you pray louder? Are you tempted to quit believing altogether? This time of silence is very common, but rarely talked about. Some refer to it as a “wilderness experience.” Others call it the winter season of life. The best descriptive term I have heard is “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It can last days, months, or even years. It is often misdiagnosed as depression, but it goes much deeper because it doesn’t just affect your mind or your emotions; it affects your soul. Here are some of the symptoms:

1. What used to work doesn’t work anymore

When I was a young Christian, I felt God’s presence all the time. If at any time I didn’t feel His presence when I thought I should, I would just pray harder or read my favorite passage of Scripture or listen to Christian music or anything else that gave me goose bumps and helped me feel God again.

One day I realized that I had not felt God’s presence in quite a while. I tried all of the remedies that used to work, but I felt nothing. During this time, God taught me that I can’t press a button and find God; that would make ME God.

2. Basic disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, and going to church actually make you feel worse

I have heard people complain that they “can’t hear God” or “it feels like God is far away.” Often well-meaning people advise them to pray more or read the Psalms or help at a soup kitchen. Though this is generally good advice, during the Dark Night these things might actually make you feel worse. That doesn’t mean you should stop praying; it just means that what once was a joyful experience has become an act of faith because it no longer energizes you and you don’t feel like God is listening. God is letting you mature by holding back that conditioned response that used to motivate you to do spiritual things.

Think about it. As a child, you had to be bribed to eat your vegetables. As an adult, hopefully you learned to eat broccoli even if it looks and tastes like tiny trees. Or maybe as a child you would only drink your medicine if it tasted like bubblegum. As an adult, you take your medicine even if it tastes like, well, medicine. You do these things because they are good for you – even if it might even hurt a little. It is the same thing for your spiritual health. There comes a point in time when you don’t like doing spiritual exercises, but know you need to in order to become stronger.

3. One or more “Christians” have told you that you have lost your faith

“I haven’t seen you at church in a while. Did you backslide?” “God never stops talking; you just stopped listening.” “Turn that frown upside down. Today is the day the Lord has made!” Christians can say the stupidest things or the right things at the wrong moments. If it bothers you at all that God might have stopped talking to you, then that proves you care. You’re still saved, but you’re going through something that some Christians can’t relate to. Don’t worry about it. Sooner or later, they’ll go through something similar.

4. You have begun questioning everything you believe in – even the basics like “Does God exist?” “Are all my sins forgiven?” “Does God really have a plan for me or has He forgotten about me?”

Though many experience it in different ways, the Dark Night of the Soul is nothing new. Peter wrote about it to the persecuted church in 1 Peter. While many were wondering whether they should give up and abandon their faith, Peter said it was actually through their faith that God’s power was shielding them. (1:5) To drop their shield of faith would not only lead to their destruction here and now, but they would also be giving up their inheritance (heaven). He encouraged them not to give up “the living hope” that they had from Jesus’ resurrection – not a wishful hope like “I hope it doesn’t rain today” but a living hope that since God already raised Jesus from the dead, we can be sure that He will raise us from the dead to be with Him forever in heaven. Peter then explains,

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Notice three things about this passage.

  1. There are “many different trials” that we might go through, but God is the judge and He is controlling the trial.
  2. Though it might feel like an eternity, the trials will only be “for a little while.” Take courage, it is darkest before the dawn.
  3. If you endure the trial, you can be sure that your faith is genuine. The trial isn’t for God – He already knows if you genuinely believe in Him or not. The trial is for you so that you can grow to a more mature faith that is not based only on what you can see or how you feel at the moment.

If you are going through the Dark Night, know that you are not going through it alone. God walks with you and only lets your hand go so your faith can grow as He leads you through the stormy valley silently. Though you cannot touch Him or hear Him to know for sure that He is there, know that He is by your side protecting you the whole time while your faith is proven genuine and grows like it only could during such an experience. Remember: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)

You would think only so much can go wrong
Calamity only strikes once
And you assume this one has suffered her share
Life will be kinder from here
Oh, but sometimes the sun stays hidden for years
Sometimes the sky rains night after night
When will it clear?

But our Hope endures the worst of conditions
It’s more than our optimism
Let the earth quake
Our Hope is unchanged

How do we comprehend peace within pain?
Or joy at a good man’s wake?
Walk a mile with the woman whose body is racked
With illness, oh how can she laugh?
Oh, ’cause sometimes the sun stays hidden for years
Sometimes the sky rains night after night
When will it clear?

But our Hope endures the worst of conditions
It’s more than our optimism
Let the earth quake
Our Hope is unchanged

Emmanuel, God is with us
El Shaddai, all sufficient
We never walk alone
And this is our hope

(“Our Hope Endures” performed by Natalie Grant)

For more on the Dark Night of the Soul: When God Stops Speaking: The Brilliance of the Dark Night of the Soul


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I have a Master of Divinity degree from Ashland Seminary and I have been a Christian for over 30 years. My passion is to make the Bible come alive not only in the minds of my readers but in their hearts as well.

10 thoughts on “When God Stops Talking: The Dark Night of the Soul”

  1. “How do we comprehend peace within pain?” – This is where I have had my biggest struggles in keeping the faith. It has been difficult, to say the least, being stricken with such a painful illness at such a young age; however, I found if I keep on praying, through it all, God does for me that which I cannot do for myself.

    I try to keep in mind that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”, and that it “rains on the just, and the unjust”.

    Thanks for bringing this wonderful study piece to us. I have enjoyed reading it.

  2. This is a wonderful master piece divinely poured out by the Holy Spirit. God bless you for this. I am now relieved…

    1. Many people have felt it (myself included). I wish I had more answers, but if it helps, all the great men of the Bible (Moses, Elijah, Jacob, Abraham, Jonah, and even Jesus) had wilderness experiences of various lengths. You will be a better person and have greater faith if and as you go through this part of the journey.

  3. It has not occurred to me, nor does it now, that the trials Peter speaks about are the silence of the voice of God. I Cor 2 is explicit about the nature and origin of the voice of God in the believer: the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance is the conduit to the wisdom and heart of the Father.

    I have been in this dark night of the soul for 13 years. From a place of obedience and faith, I was rewarded with cold, dead silence. Any ministry I had or could have had is dead, because I have no more testimony to give. Any comfort from “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is dead, since the voice of life that once spoke the promise is silent.

    As a parent, cutting my son off from me while continuing to provide for him would be an ultimate act of cruelty; I am not strengthening him by denying him access to my presence and love. Indeed, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” is meaningless if the goal is simply to learn to do things myself.

    I have yet to find an answer for all of this, and I have certainly exhausted my share of bent ears in this regard. I have no idea how to learn what it is I am supposed to learn from this, and navigating the darkness is most certainly a futile endeavor when the light has been out for so long.

    1. I can only try to empathize with you. I too had a dark night during what seemed to be when I most needed the voice of God. When I made the commitment and started going to seminary, my world was rocked and God fell silent. At first I thought I just couldn’t hear Him, but it was clear after trying everything that once worked (prayer, church, small group, Bible reading) that God was just not speaking. If it is any consolation, all the greats went through a lengthy wilderness experience: Jesus, Moses, Abraham, John the Baptist, Elijah, and Mother Teresa. Jesus needed 40 days. Moses needed 40 years. In my experience and what I can glean from theirs, it is not so much a learning experience (we may never know why we had to go through this) as it is a growing experience. We grow in the dark. In the wilderness, in the solitude. God is with us, but we cannot see or hear anything that proves it. We just have to have faith. We will either become bitter and leave Him in frustration trying to control Him and when He moves and speaks or trust Him and let our faith grow knowing He did speak once which is all it took for the creation of the world and all it takes to recreate us. Take heart, He is near, but He is not tame.

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