I saw a documentary where a priest said that the “dark night of the soul” is mentioned in the Bible, but I was not able to find where.

Is the “dark night of the soul” mentioned directly or indirectly in the Bible?

  • 4
    At the moment, this is a verse search question, which are considered off-topic now. Aug 12, 2015 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


The phrase “dark night of the soul” comes from a poem by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), a Spanish Carmelite monk and mystic, whose Noche obscura del alma is translated “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

Its meant to be synonymous with traveling the “narrow way” that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:13-14.

So no, it is not mentioned in the Bible.


Wikipedia entry for the peom in general

As well as this book from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

  • Can you source this please?
    – user3961
    Jul 9, 2014 at 23:47
  • @fredsbend 2 sources. One research, another personal read.
    – Jesse
    Jul 9, 2014 at 23:55
  • This seems to contradict Wikipedia's statement that The term "dark night (of the soul)" is used in Christianity for a spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God, like that described by Saint John of the Cross.
    – Flimzy
    Jul 10, 2014 at 0:03
  • @Flimzy yes, you are correct, but the way towards God is through the narrow path.
    – Jesse
    Jul 10, 2014 at 0:46
  • @Jess: That may be, but that's not what "dark night of the soul" refers to.
    – Flimzy
    Jul 10, 2014 at 0:51

The words the dark night of the soul are not, to the best of my knowledge, in the Bible. The phenomenon as experienced by real people in real situations is in the Bible, however. One need only think about saints under the old covenant who struggled with what we today would call depression, which is I suggest, one aspect of the dark night of the soul. Perhaps a few examples would help.

  • Elijah: In the aftermath of his--well, God's--victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, Elijah came crashing down, emotionally and spiritually. Convinced he was the only prophet left in Israel (18:22 and 19:10), Elijah despaired of life itself. While he may have been the only prophet in Israel who had remained faithful to the one true God--though that was not likely the case (see 20:19), the LORD gave Elijah these encouraging words:

"' I still have left in Israel seven thousand followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed the images of him'” (19:18).

Exactly how long Elijah took to emerge from his pit of depression, we do not know. With God's encouragement, with some much needed nourishment and sleep (!), and with God's commissioning him anew, however, Elijah eventually obeyed the LORD and took one step forward, and then the next step, and the step after that, and so on, until he was back to his old self once again and feeling useful in the service of YHWH (see 19:19 ff.).

Psychologically, we might analyze Elijah's obvious depression and attribute it in part to his having had what could be called a peak mountaintop experience (pun intended) and then having to come down from the mountaintop only to be threatened by wicked Queen Jezebel who threatened to take his life (19:2). What was Elijah's response to Jezebel's threat?

"Elijah was afraid, so he got up and fled for his life to Beer Sheba in Judah" (19:3 ff.).

If Elijah, that great prophet and miracle worker of YHWH, was subject to depression, might not "average" believers like you and me experience the same dark night of the soul at least once in our lives? I think so.

  • King David: The "man after God's own heart" brought on his own dark night of the soul through blatant and willful sin when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then gave his soldiers orders to see to it that her husband would die in battle. David did not confess his sins to the LORD right away, but his delay cost him dearly. "Psalm 32:3-4 probably records David’s misery during the time between his sinning and his confessing. This psalm, and especially Psalm 51, gives further insight into David’s feelings when he confessed his sins" (Constable)."

Here are some of the symptoms David manifested when he came to grips with his sin, as recorded in Psalms 32 and 51:

  1. "my body wasted away"

  2. feeling oppressed by the LORD

  3. loss of vitality

  4. painful, inner groaning

  5. self-reproach for his bloodguiltiness

  6. broken bones (metaphorically speaking)

  7. the loss of joy in his salvation

  8. a weak-willed spirit

  9. a missing prayer- and praise-life

  10. the necessity of having his spirit broken and being made to feel contrition

Elsewhere in Psalms, David reveals other emotions which we generally associate with depression:

  • "my bones are dismayed" and "my soul is greatly dismayed" (6:2-3)

  • "I am weary with my sighing," "every night I make my bed swim . . . [and] dissolve my couch with my tears" (6:6)

  • "My eye has wasted away with grief" (6:7)

  • "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior . . ." (Psalm 42:5 NIV)

  • "My soul is downcast within me" (Psalm 42:6 NIV)

  • "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" (Psalm 42:11; 43:5 NIV).

I could go on to consider other great personages in the Scripture, since there are more than a few saints who wrestled with depression (e.g., Jeremiah, the weeping prophet), but Elijah and David will likely suffice to illustrate how "this life is the hard one."

Life is not always hard, of course, and Jesus did promise us an abundant, full, and meaningful life (John 10:10). We also need to remember that the LORD renewed Elijah's spirit and restored to David the joy of His salvation. Then, too, the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience" and more (Galatians 5:22 ff., my emphasis), so we needn't feel we are on our own in getting victory over depression.

In conclusion, not every Christian today should expect to wrestle with chronic depression. By the same token, however, no Christian can expect to be on a spiritual mountaintop all the time. Sooner or later he or she needs to descend into the valley--or as John Bunyan called it in Pilgrim's Progess, the "slough (slaʊ) of despond"--and experience at least some of the symptoms of the dark night of the soul, if only for a season.

  • Great, well documented answer, thanks, accept & +1 Jul 10, 2014 at 19:10

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