The Desert Experience: Part 2
Updated: Jul 25
What then is the purpose of the desert experience? What is it that God is accomplishing in us?
Foster, drawing from the work of Saint John of the Cross, suggests that the purpose is our
purification and that we are being purified in two respects.
First, we are being purified externally as God uses the desert experience to wean us off our false expectations about religious activity. Through His perceived absence, God forces us to contend with the realization that no amount of ‘religion’ will elicit His presence. “After all, He’s not a tame lion.” (Lewis)
Likewise, we discover that our religious activity will not satisfy our deep longing for His
presence and the warmth of His gaze. Essentially, we learn that our relationship with Him is not conditional but is instead transcendent. It is a gift of His grace.
we discover that our religious activity will not satisfy our deep longing for His presence and the warmth of His gaze.
“God refused to jump when I said ‘Jump!’ Neither by theological acumen nor by religious
technique could I conquer God. God was, in fact, to conquer me.” (Foster)
Second, we are being purified internally as God uses the desert experience to wean us off our dependence upon interior results. In our experience of His silence, we are forced to wrestle with our doubts and probe the foundations of our belief.
“Our trust in all exterior and interior results is (being) shattered so that we can learn faith in God alone. Through our barrenness of soul God is producing detachment, humility, patience, (and) perseverance.” (Foster)
How should we faithfully respond in these times of God’s seeming absence? Foster suggests the following two-fold response.
Complain – This likely sounds strange. We’ve been conditioned not to complain but the Bible is full of the complaints and laments of God’s people. They testify to the appropriateness of raising our complaints to heaven.
Pursue – In the midst of our desert experiences we should doggedly pursue God. What we have learned to do in the light of God’s presence we ought to persevere in during the lonely barrenness of His perceived absence. Persistence in worship and prayer produces in us hearts bent towards God in all of life’s circumstances.
Through our desert experiences, we learn to love God because of who He is, in spite of who we are, and wholly apart from what He may do for us. We learn instead, to trust in His character and His promises. In this way, faith is produced in our seasons of waiting on Him.
I hope this will be a comfort to you when you face your own desert experience.