Around the world there have been many different rites of passage by which boys would become men. In one Native American tribe the young braves were given a test of courage. A 13-year-old boy, on the verge of manhood, would be awakened during the night and led blindfolded out of the camp. When he was several miles away from home, the blindfold would be removed and he was left in the forest. He did not know where he was, but he was told to stay there until morning. All alone he faced the dark night. Every sound would fill his imagination with threats of danger. Shadows in the unfamiliar surroundings made him imagine wild animals or enemies ready to attack.
After a sleepless night filled with tension and fear the sun would rise, and the young brave could finally begin to see clearly what was around him. Much to his surprise, he would see a man armed with a bow and arrow standing just a few feet away. The man would be his father; and he would then tell his son that he had been there throughout the night to protect him.
This is a wonderful illustration of the Christian’s life in the world. In Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, he said, “Surely, I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” However, just like the young brave in the dark night could not see his father who was always by his side, we cannot see our heavenly Father, who has promised to be always with us. But we can take comfort in Jesus words to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Not only can we not see God, but there are times when it is difficult even to see any signs of His care or goodness, and we can become discouraged. But in that ‘dark night of the soul’ God can give us faith and strength. In the Old Testament, Habakkuk lived at a time of violence and injustice and evil in his nation. Worse yet, they were threatened from the outside by approaching Babylonian invaders. God seemed silent to Habakkuk, who cried out at the beginning of the book that bears his name, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” And yet, it seems things had to get worse before they would get better. Even at the book’s end, Habakkuk was still waiting for help to come, but still he could pray this great prayer of confident faith (3:16-19): “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet, I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. And even though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength.” Habakkuk could not yet see God’s hand in the trouble all around him, but still he believed and trusted.
A similar testimony of faith was found on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany after World War II. It was apparently left by someone who had been hiding from the Nazis. Workers found this inscription while clearing away the debris from a destroyed home. It read: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when I do not feel it. I believe in God, even when he is silent.”
In that same war, Corrie ten Boom also seemed abandoned by God. She was a Christian and her family had courageously hidden several Jews in their home. When the Nazis discovered this, the ten Boom family was sent to a concentration camp. Several members of Corrie’s family died there, and Corrie endured much suffering. Later, when talking about trusting God even in such difficult circumstances, she would say: “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and you trust the engineer to get you through.”
During those same years, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in a Nazi prison for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was executed on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the Allies liberated the prison in which he was held. He too could have felt like God had abandoned him. But instead he trusted in God, even though he could not see much of his care and goodness at the time. From his prison cell, Bonhoeffer wrote: “By good powers, wonderfully hidden, we wait cheerfully, come what may.”
One final example: After 16 difficult years as a missionary and explorer in Africa, David Livingstone returned to his native Scotland where addressed the students at Glasgow University. His body was emaciated by the ravages of some twenty-seven fevers, which he had endured in his years of service. One arm hung useless at his side, the result of being chewed on by an attacking lion. He said to the students: “Shall I tell you what sustained me amidst the toil, the hardship, and the loneliness of my exile? It was Christ’s promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end.’”
These people show us that we do not have to see God or his benefits to be strengthened by his presence. Like the young brave in the forest, we can be assured that our Father is right by us, even when all is darkness. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Matthew 28:20b — (Jesus said), “…Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
John 20:29 — Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you believed; blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
2 Corinthians 5:7 — We live by faith, not by sight.
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. —Book of Common Prayer