>Jin-roh and the LDS: One Reason Why I’m a "Traditional Christian."

Posted: 17/01/2009 in LDS

>I often enjoy the company of LDS and I appreciate their kindness, sincerity, and many of the values. Yet I still remain “some kind of (evangelical) Christian.” Simply put, there are lots of reasons why it is doubtful that I would ever join the LDS community. Evangelicals will give you all kinds of reasons, and many of these I share, but I’d like to add something new: the spiritual phenomenon of Dark Night of the Soul. Evangelicals can deal with it. Can the LDS?

The Dark Night which I am referring to comes from a 16th century mystic, St. John of the Cross. It’s something like a Job experience. Simply put, it is the seemingly unjustified, unfair, and quite disorienting feeling that God has left you and you’re not even sure if he is hearing you pray. God tosses you out of a place of spiritual comfort and into a bleak spiritual desert. St. John of the Cross describes it this way:

“When they are going about these spiritual desires with the greatest delight and pleasure, and when they believe that the sun of Divine favor is shining most brightly upon them, God turns all this light of theirs into darkness, and shuts against them the door and the source of the sweet spiritual water which they were tasting in God whensoever and for as long as they desired.”

This type of bleakness does not happen to someone who is not a Christian. It happens to someone who has already been following Christ –with deep sincerity—for some time. This person has likely been baptisized. They most likely have good devotional life. They have scripture memorized. They go to church on Sundays. They may even have gone on a few mission trips. All in all, this Divine abandonment happens to someone who is good, believes the rights things, and does the things. It happened to St. John, and he was a monk!

This type of abandonment lingers and persists. No longer are people enduring this able to pray or have any kind of devotional life. Instead they find only “insipidity and bitterness” in these things. Likewise, one knows not “whither to go” in prayer life so a sacred sense of direction and consolation are gone. I say again: God abandons you, he doesn’t hear you, and you don’t know why.

So why does it happen? Evangelicals and LDS will have to deal with this differently.

St. John of the Cross believed that this event was part of someone’s spiritual formation. The Dark Night purges the soul of certain impurities. For instance, one might suffer from “spiritual avarice” which is the tendency to collect and horde spiritual trinkets like, Christian music CDs, Thomas Kincaide paintings, and other things at the Christian bookstores. The believer uses these things for their devotional life, but there is the implicit (greedy) belief that these things get you closer to God all by themselves. Once one goes the Dark Night, and gets that feeling of bitterness towards these things, that person loses their attachment to Christian retail. This done, the soul is now more purely, and more directly, in love with God. This is only one example of many.

I don’t believe that Evangelicalism has a insurmountably difficult time understanding this type of experience. Essentially God abandons a believer in “good standing” in order that this believer might have a better relationship with him in the future. So as harsh, barely endurable, and disorienting as the Dark Night is, it eventually makes sense to an evangelical. Not all evangelicals will understand, but I am sure if you ask anyone who suffered ministry burn-out they can tell you all about it.

What about LDS? When LDS describe the feeling of the Holy Ghost to me he is often described as a warm feeling –like the feeling you get when you father tucked you in at night. They also tell me that this sense of spiritual presence only leaves when are sinning somehow. It seems very much a one-to-one correlation between one’s lack-of-sinfulness and how much of God’s comfort and presence you receive. Some may object, but I can only reply that this entire blog was built on reflections of my time in Utah with a young LDS couple.

Because of this, I don’t think the LDS community can ever truly deal with a person who is walking upright in their devotional life, but suddenly feels abandoned by God. One could only ever be Job’s friends, constantly looking for sin in the life of the grieved and telling them that they are sinning more because they don’t feel like following through with any of the motions during church services and such. I can only imagine how bad it would be to experience the Dark Night while within the LDS community. What is there to do? Keep going through the motions of a devotional life even though it’s rote in meaningless? Keep looking for sin in your until you can’t do anything right? Leave?

It’s ironic that something so negative as the Dark Night is what could keep me from joining the LDS community. Yet it is overall positive effect of effect of spiritual growth that makes it worthwhile. When I see one of my fellow Christians in a place like this, I want to be able to say to them, as St. John might have, that God has seen that have grown a bit and are now able to handle spiritual aridity and darkness. I don’t want to become one of Job’s friends. I don’t want to say to them that their somehow sinning and they need to do more of what they hate to get back with God. This painful, yet I believe universal and ultimately good, phenomenon is simply outside of LDS theology.

  1. Q says:

    >I agree with you on many points, but a couple questions: 1) Why is this limited only to evangelicals? Evangelical != Christian. The only reason I bring that up is that I don’t really consider myself “evangelical.” 2) Do you see this as representative of wider problems in Mormonism, or is this the only thing that separates you from becoming LDS? I.e. if Mormonism could reconcile this problem, would you have any reservation about joining an LDS church?

  2. Jin-roh says:

    >When discussing Mormonism I use the term “traditional/creedal Christians” and “Evangelical” to describe my non-lds camp so that I don’t have to wrangle over the definition of “Christian” when talking to LDS.I’m barely evangelical myself.

  3. Q says:

    >I see, I just thought it was an interesting way to describe things based on things we’ve discussed. I suppose I’m more inclined just to make the distinction as Christian and Mormon. Theologically, I think Mormonism rejects or nuances too much of Christian orthodoxy to fall under the umbrella; I consider it an essentially Gnostic movement with some variances.

  4. Jin-roh says:

    >I do too. The thing is, when and LDS hears the term “Christian” they don’t think in terms of creeds, religious orthodoxy, etc. They think of it more as set of moral and ethical values. Saying their not Christians sounds to them like we’re asserting they are not moral even though that’s not what we mean. That’s why I don’t use the term to avoid confusion.

  5. Adam Goyer says:

    >Joel,I just anted to take a moment to say “Thank you” your timely reflection on St. John of the Cross were appropriate to me. I know it’s not the broad topic on hand, but I appreciate it none the less.

  6. Biomusician says:

    >I think that misinterpretations of “Dark Night” times are fairly widespread in most religious communities, including modern Christianity. Examples abound: OT Job, NT religious leaders who supposed that the man who was born blind had sinned, evangelicals who suppose that “acts of God” and diseases are punishment, and motivational speakers who urge repentance for those who are feeling far from God. It’s a natural response: Things are not right with me; something is wrong with me.The LDS holds the Bible, including the OT, in their canon. I think you may be generalizing a bit too hastily in attributing one understanding of the Dark Night to the LDS and one to evangelicals.

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