Friday, October 26, 2012

A Story: The Dark Night of the Soul

One Tuesday evening twenty-some years ago, I sat in a classroom at the seminary with about 100 other women.  The sem offered mini-classes for wives, and this one was crowded because it was being led by a popular teacher.  One of the wives brought up her fear for the rest of us.  You see, according to her, the rest of us weren't really Christians.  We hadn't really turned our lives over to Jesus.  We hadn't really made Him lord of our lives.  She knew what we were like because she used to be one of us, thinking that she was a Christian.  But then, ah, then, she had a conversion experience, you see.  She wanted us to realize our dire straits so that we too might Make A Decision For Jesus and thus be saved.

Her proof-text for all this was from Matthew 7: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven....  I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, all you who practice lawlessness.'"  She accused the whole class of being the ones who thought they were doing the Lord's work but who would be surprised at the end of the world when Jesus says, "Get lost; I never knew you."

I remember well how the teacher/pastor let her keep talking.  I remember well how he said somberly, "Yes, that passage frightens me.  How do I know if I am the one to whom Jesus will say, 'Depart from Me'?"  I remember well how that evening terrified me.

For three weeks, life was hell.  I knew I couldn't pray for help.  After all, God only hears the prayers of Christians, and I obviously was not a Christian.  I don't think I talked to Gary about it at the time; it would be shameful to tell him about it.  I was afraid of death, afraid of a freak car accident or whatever might suddenly kill a 20-something gal.  Death meant an eternity in hell; I wasn't a Christian.  I was trapped in my imperfection.  I had no hope.  There was nothing I could do to ensure that I was living up to God's standards.  Nothing I could do to ensure His wrath would not zot me to hell. 

Then, blessedly, this came up, somehow, in a conversation with our pastor.  Tom Baker [no, not Four, and not Puddleglum, but the pastor] lavished the Gospel upon me.  He told me that Jesus was the one who baptized me.  He told me that God chose me, that I couldn't choose Him.  He told me that Jesus' death on the cross forgives my sin.  He kept telling me and telling me and telling me, forgiving me, blessing me, pointing me to Christ and His work instead of ro my navel-gazing.  I suppose it might have been a little like Luther's tower experience.  "You mean He forgives me?  Me?  But it really is true that I'm as sinful and unbelieving as this 'holy' woman accused.  And still, Jesus forgives me???"

Today I can see how God worked good through that hellish situation.  What the devil means for destruction, God uses to draw needy people to Himself.  I have had to learn again and again what Pastor Baker gave me that day, that week, that month.  Yes, the accusations of Satan (and that sem wife) on that horrible Tuesday night so long ago, ... the accusations are true.  But truer yet --and oh so much bigger-- is my Savior's love for me and His blood shed to save me. 

Through the years I wondered how the teacher could stand in front of class and allow that woman's accusations to stand unanswered.  Through the years I wondered if he too had been damned by her words.   Was the pastor so full of doubts that he could not defend the scores of women in the room that night?  Had someone come to him later with the good news of the forgiveness of sins?  Had someone brought him the peace that Pastor Baker brought to me?  How sad it would be to "hope"* that Jesus' righteousness would cover you, while continuing in the uncertainty that Jesus might instead announce on the Last Day, "I never knew you."

 *Footnote: Sometimes "hope" means
 a sure and certain hope, something 
that is incontrovertible.  But too often
 "hope" means merely wishful thinking.

In Christ Jesus 
we have boldness
and access  
with confidence
through faith in Him.   (Eph 3)

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