God brought Naomi from pleasantness to bitterness, from fullness to emptiness. Contrary to what she could see, God was not moving to destroy her. He was moving to save her and all mankind. God would give her a child through Ruth who would be the grandfather of King David, through whom the promised Christ would come. God didn’t reveal any of this to Naomi. She wanted sight, but she needed faith. The same is true for us.
Christians rejoice that God has called us out of our spiritual darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). We walk by faith in the Light of the world. Yet sometimes God calls us to walk at night, when his providence perplexes or pains us. Even then, God has given us his word to guide us, like “a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns” (2 Pet. 1:19). One helpful guide is the story of Naomi, who was also called to walk through the spiritual dark of suffering. As we see God’s gracious work in Naomi’s life, we learn three lessons for enduring spiritual nights.
Lesson 1: Prepare for the Night
Naomi’s story starts with suffering. We find her widowed, bereaved, and hungry (Ruth 1:1–5). It might surprise us to learn that this sort of hardship is not the exception, but the norm for the Christian. God may not call us to suffer as Naomi suffered, but even so, Peter tells Christians not to “be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Jesus did not tell us to affirm ourselves and take up our comforts, but to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.
This should not make us pessimistic; it should make us prepared. Nighttime always comes. We are not surprised when the sun sets, and because we know it is coming, we are prepared. Night shouldn’t surprise us. Neither should suffering.
In Genesis 41, God warned Pharaoh in a dream that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. He did this so Pharaoh would prepare for the days of famine by filling his storehouses with grain during the days of plenty. True, God has not told us when our spiritual nights and famines will come, or how long they will last, but he has told us they will come. So we mustn’t waste the days of plenty, but use them to prepare for whenever the night or famine arrives. We must soak up the rays of the gospel when it shines brightly in our hearts, and fill the storehouses of our souls with its grace. We must prepare for the night through the means of grace God has given us, because our faith won’t see as well when the sun sets.
To lack a biblical theology of suffering confuses and confounds. We may be tempted to doubt God’s promises. God may feel distant and silent. Our physical and spiritual strength may be diminished. This is when we need to be sustained by stored grace. Our preparation will not make suffering more enjoyable, but it will make it more endurable.
Lesson 2: Don’t Trust Your Sight
When we suffer, it’s not uncommon to feel like the darkness will never lift.