When believers enter “the dark night of the soul,” those times when God’s mysterious will, worked out through difficult providence, makes the Lord appear veiled and unapproachable, what should they do? As we look at Scripture, one conclusion is apparent. They should sing. For the biblical testimony is that God provides “songs in the night”—lyrics to bring to Him in times of great heart distress.
We would not, at first thought, naturally reason that a time of struggle, suffering, or pain is also a time for singing, especially when God seems absent and hidden. It can almost seem cruel to suggest that a hurting, disillusioned soul should sing. Crying, wondering, and groaning seem more fitting. But singing? Is not lifting our voice in song for happy times? Certainly, but singing is also for trying times. Indeed, perhaps especially so.
Christian songwriter Michael Card has noted that in the book of Psalms, sixty-five of the 150 songs found there, or more than 40 percent, contain lamentations. As His people live in this sin-cursed world, God knew that they would need help pouring out their souls to Him in distress. So, He provided them with songs to sing at those times—songs in the night.
Job’s younger friend Elihu testifies to this truth when he acknowledges that God “gives songs in the night” to those in distress (Job 35:10). Likewise, the psalmist, so troubled in soul that he says he moans when he remembers God, stirs himself with the words, “Let me remember my song in the night” (Ps. 77:3, 6). He then goes on to sing five agonizing lines of a song that, stated in questions, describe how spiritual midnight truly feels. “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (vv. 7–9).
One such song in the night is Psalm 42. The psalmist, far from God and His people, taunted by his foes, says he longs for God like a hunted deer pants for water (v. 1). He describes his experience as having the breaking waves of God’s sea washing over him (v. 7). He gives expression to dismay, as seen in the twice-repeated question of the psalm: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (vv. 5, 11).