When St. John of the Cross says that God is a “dark night” or “darkness to the soul,” it may sound troubling when referring to God, who is normally referred to as “light” or specifically “the light of the world.”

One thing to keep in mind is that God is darkness only relative to our powers. Just as the sun is a kind of darkness and blindness when you stare directly at it (which I do not recommend), when we try to “stare directly at God,” our powers are overwhelmed since by nature our powers are finite and God by nature is infinite. How can the finite contain the infinite? It cannot.

In philosophy, the term for this situation is excess. God is an excess of light and is therefore darkness to us. Furthermore, we can never exhaust and fully understand God as he understands himself since that would make us the Wisdom of God, which is absurd.

The term “darkness,” then, enlightens us more than we initially thought. We now know that God is above all light, above all we can contain and abstract, above all finite things by virtue of his very being, which is Infinite Being. Thus, he seems like darkness to us; we cannot see God like we see other things.

Furthermore, God is a dark night to the soul in this life because we can only see him by faith. Our faith sees the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and gives us more understanding of this dark night to the soul (this infinite God who loves us). Pseudo-Macarius says that we see God’s spirit leading us in his wisdom in external things and in our thoughts internally and that all this is possible through the light of faith and the indwelling of God by virtue of our Baptism.

While God’s essence remains unknown to us, we do know what he revealed about himself through revelation and when he became man and walked among us and died for us. If you ever feel that God is too far away, simply look at the humanity of Christ, what he did, how he loved us, and how he suffered for us. Then, whatever darkness is present to you about God will become light, for Christ is our light and the Way to the Father.