Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Mother Theresa. Last Sunday, in my sermon titled "Stand Fast," I referenced Al Mohler's comments on recent revelations of Mother Theresa's dark night of the soul (see last week's Time cover). Here's what Mohler wrote:
The recent revelations of Mother Teresa's spiritual struggle should remind all believing Christians that our faith is in Christ -- not in our feelings.
The disclosure of previous secret letters from Mother Teresa indicates that she was deeply troubled by doubts and a sense of Christ's absence. The fact is that many Christians struggle with doubt. Indeed, the most thoughtful believers are most likely of all to understand what is at stake, and thus to suffer pangs and seasons of doubt.
Doubt can be healthy. It can drive believers to a deeper knowledge of what we believe and a deeper embrace of the truth of the Gospel. It can deepen our trust in God and mature our faith. At the same time, doubt can be a form of sin . . . a refusal to trust God and his promises.
This can also be the root of depression, especially spiritual depression. I would not presume to read Mother Teresa'a heart or soul, but I can reflect on the questions raised by her experience.
The Christian Gospel is the good news that God saves sinners through the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ -- his cross and resurrection. Salvation comes to those who believe in Christ -- it is by grace we are saved through faith.
But the faith that saves is not faith in faith, nor faith in our ability to maintain faith, but faith in Christ. Our confidence is in Christ, not in ourselves.
There is a sweet and genuine emotional aspect to the Christian faith, and God made us emotional and feeling creatures. But we cannot trust our feelings. Our faith is not anchored in our feelings, but in the facts of the Gospel.
As an evangelical Christian, I have to be concerned that part of Mother Teresa's struggle was that she did not consider herself worthy of salvation. She was certainly not worthy of salvation. Nor am I. Nor is any sinner. The essence of the Gospel is that none is worthy of salvation. That is what makes salvation all about grace. As the Apostle Paul taught us, the wonder of God's grace is that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.
Our confidence is in Christ, not in ourselves. We are weak; He is strong. We fluctuate; He is constant. We cannot trust our feelings nor our emotional state. We trust in Christ. Those who come to Christ by faith are not kept unto him by our faith, but by his faithfulness.
I possess no ability to read Mother Teresa's heart, but I do sincerely hope that her faith was in Christ, and not in her own faithfulness.
I was just looking up information about Mother Teresa, on this anniversary of her death, when I found your blog. I agree with what you said. I think that Mother Teresa did believe in God and in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. I don't think that anybody without that faith would likely have gone through the "hell" that she did without it despite any questions she may have had. Even John the Baptist, considered the greatest of the prophets, had misgivings, did some questioning as likely did the family of Jesus including His own mother. Jesus, Himself, in the Garden of Gethesemene (pardon my spelling) asked the Father if it might be possible for the cup to pass from Him. Over the years, I have known of missionaries, ministers and church laypeople to question and go through "spiritual dry periods" - I have done so myself. Yet then, there have been times when I hear God say to me, as the Christian song says, "...lean on Me, when you have no place to stand, when you think you're going under, hold tighter to My Hand...!" when you think that He is all you've got, you'll find He's all you need. Someday, in heaven, I look forward to greeting Mother Teresa and, after his passing today, Dr. D. James Kennedy and thank them for all they did in service to our Lord in this life. I am sure that I will greet you there and thank you too, however, here's and early thanks for all that you are doing in service to our Lord Jesus Christ here on earth. Please keep up the good work, brother, and may God richly bless you and yours. Respectfully, Marshall Buckles, Montpelier, VA
I believe that a faith that is not questioning is not really faith at all. Doesn't the bible say "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7) A real faith can take honest questioning. Just as "stress testing" is used by programmers and engineers alike, I think it also applies to one's beliefs.
IMHO, one of the perversions of fundementalism is the substitution fear for faith. If you find someone who is afraid to question then you also find someone who is at heart afraid of what they may find if they do. Thomas Jefferson said “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear” In fact, I believe the Bible even defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1) By that, it seems the opposite of faith is not questioning, but rather hopelessness and unwillingness to see.
Those are not qualities one could attribute to Mother Theresa. She looked often and repeatedly into the darkest corners of the human soul. To see the things that she'd seen and not question would practically constitute willful neglect. After all, we should feel something and seriously question when we see how badly people have treated each other. Faith is knowing there are answers to our questions even if they aren't always easy to find. If instead we simply pretend to know all the answers already, and disregard our questions altogether out of fear, then I don't really think that does any service to God.
Dr. Mohler noted that "Doubt can be healthy." That hardly seems like a fearful response. His question was about the nature of doubt.
His comments on Theresa were quite generous, in my view. In fact, more generous than the current Pope's recent statement that Protestants like Mohler and me are not in "real" churches, since we stand outside Catholicism.
As for the role of doubt in faith:
I would not want to go to a doctor who had studied lots of medicine but had come to no firm conclusions as to how to treat the sick. Nor would I want to drive over a bridge built by an engineer who had done lots of study on construction but who was not sure whether the bridge he built would hold up under the weight of actual cars. In both cases I would prefer someone who had sure confidence in the fundamentals. Why do we assume that "religion" is purely the arena of feelings and hunches but no sure certainties?
I once heard someone say that an open mind is to a man like an open mouth to a body. If the mouth is always open but never clamps down on some actual food and takes in nourishment, then the body shrivels up and dies. So the open minded man who never comes to truth will starve to death spiritually. As Paul put it, some are "always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 3:7).
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