Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009
The title of this book, SEASONS OF THE SOUL: Stages of Spiritual Development, describes its contents quite well. The author, Bruce Demarest (1935-2021) was well suited to write on this crucial subject. For many years he served as professor of Christian formation at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He is also the author of The Human Person in Theology & Psychology, Soul Guide, Satisfy Your Soul, The Cross & Salvation, Integrative Theology, General Revelation, and Who Is Jesus?
Demarest begins this 169 book by pointing out that the Christian life, starting with our conversion, is a journey with ups and downs. It passes through many stages, some very hard, in order to make us Christ-like as God intends us to be. The author stresses that there must be disorientation (seasons of distress, even suffering) to gradually bring us to joyful reorientation.
For me the most powerful part of the book was the author’s description of “the dark night of the soul”, a spiritual crisis in the journey toward union with God, originally described by 16th century Catholic priest, St. John of the Cross. Demarest points out that Christians from all traditions have experienced this, and it is also well documented in Scripture. In his time of crisis Job, for example, declared, “Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy.” The Psalmists frequently pour out their feelings of abandonment. Jesus Himself cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Demarest documents how many men and women of God down through the centuries and from all Christian traditions have experienced great lows in their walk with God on their way to maturity, including Therese of Lisieux, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Oswald Chambers, and C. S. Lewis.
One of the stories that touched me most deeply was that of Lewis Smedes (1922-2003), a pastor and seminary professor with whom I am familiar. Smedes wrote: “I fell into a depression that made my family’s life a misery, turned me into a grouch with my colleagues, made a hash of my relationship with God and pushed me into a dark night of the soul.” For this difficult season he leaned on the faith of his wife and mustered the strength to wait, clinging desperately to God’s promises. Later he wrote, “God came back to me on the strength of her power to wait for me. Never before had I known the saving power of waiting.” This is just one true story among many.
A.W. Tozer wrote, “Deliverance can come only by the defeat of our old life. … God rescues us by breaking us, by shattering our strength, and wiping out our resistance. Then He invades our natures with that ancient and eternal life which is from the beginning.” Many of us, if not all, who are reading this review have had this experience in our lives. It is perhaps the hardest thing we ever had to deal with, but without it we remain infants in our faith.
The author remind us that this is not necessarily a once and for all experience. I wish it were! Theologian Walter Bruggemann observes that we continue our lives in a flow of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.
To whet your appetite to read SEASONS OF THE SOUL let me share one final quote from near the end:
The maturity to which God calls us requires courage, tenacity, and prudent risk taking as we move into unexplored territory. Above all, we must take up the cross that Jesus bore and tread the path of rejection, suffering, and redemption with him. Trusting God, we must endure all that life this side of Eden brings our way. Throwing in the towel in defeat is no option for followers of the all-conquering Christ. Ultimately, the trials we bear prove to be blessings, for in the mystery of providence fragile self-trust gives way to sturdy God trust and our death dealing flesh is overcome by the life-giving Spirit.