How to Endure the Night


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. We may attempt, therefore, to peer into our hypothetical future to find any thread of hope to cling to. The problem with this approach is that we can’t see clearly in the darkness of suffering—suffering is like a microscope that magnifies our pain and fear, filling our entire field of vision—and so we may convince ourselves our future is hopeless. That’s how Naomi felt.

Naomi expresses this feeling when she tells the women of Bethlehem, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20–21). Naomi means pleasant, and Mara means bitter. In her current sorrow, Naomi thought she would never know fullness or pleasantness again.

Grief, like hard crying, blurs our vision. When our hearts are weeping, we aren’t in a fit condition to assess our present situation, let alone the future. We need to know that we aren’t in our right frame of mind when experiencing calamity, and so we aren’t the best judges of our circumstances. As creatures, our sight is always limited. As sufferers, it can also be distorted.

When we spiral toward despair, we must remember that we can’t see everything, and what we can see isn’t always reliable, even if some of it is true. Naomi wasn’t wrong to attribute her calamity to God’s hand. However, as the rest of the story makes clear, she was wrong to believe she was hopeless. The night had come, but there was still light.

Lesson 3: Look for the Moonlight

Naomi’s story reminds us that perception isn’t always reality. The fact we don’t see God’s activity in our lives doesn’t mean he is failing to act. God often gives glimpses of his activity, but we can be so preoccupied with our grief that we miss it. Even when God brings the night and temporarily removes the sunlight, he has not removed all light—there is still moonlight. It is not as bright, but it is there, and through it, God whispers that he is still working for our good. So even when we lament the light God takes, we should look for the light he gives.

God gave Naomi moonlight, but Naomi’s grief-distorted perspective blinded her to it. We, however, need to see these critical beams of God’s loving light.

The first beam is the end of the famine. Naomi returns home because God has visited his people again with food (Ruth 1:6)—what merciful provision! The second, and most significant, beam is Ruth. Her presence is proof that God has not left Naomi alone. Through Ruth, God will provide food and children for Naomi. When Naomi declares that God has brought her back empty, Ruth is likely standing right next to her! Naomi is missing God’s provision.

God is always working for our good (Rom. 8:28). Look for his beams of moonlight, his subtle signs of grace, and find, as the hymn says, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” His beams are an argument against our felt hopelessness.


Christians will suffer. In fact, we must suffer. Suffering is essential: if we are to share his crown, we must first share his cross (Rom. 8:17). There is no resurrection without death. God must empty us to fill us.

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. We want God to tell us how it will all work out. We want him to answer all our why questions. But faith doesn’t depend on those answers. More than why, we need to know who. Who is our God? Who has placed us where we are? Who is with us? The answer is: Our heavenly Father, who is our God in Christ, the one who sees all, perfectly knowing the end from the beginning, always moving according to his perfect wisdom, knowledge, love, grace, and faithfulness. Trust him until “the day breathes and the shadows flee” (Song of Solomon 2:17).

Neil Quinn serves as the pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Kalamazoo, MI, where he lives with his wife and four children.