Doubting Teresa

I came across a fascinating article this week.  You can read it hereSome letters from Mother Teresa to her spiritual advisor have been published in a new book by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk entitled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.  The title is taken from what Mother Teresa claimed to be a vision she had in which God called her to “be my light” to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India.  She gave herself for the betterment of others, which is both commendable and exemplary.  Her work was nothing short of phenomenal.  In fact, her commitment to her humanitarian efforts was recognized when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.  However, the book, as documented in her letters, depicts her intense spiritual struggles.  Interestingly, through all this incredible labor, she claimed her smile was “a mask.”  Her doubts began as her work in India did, in the early 1950s.  She writes,

 “I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”   

And later . . .  

“In my soul, I can’t tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible — I feel like refusing God.” 

Some have called these statements “suffering.” They argue that these spiritual pangs are not indicative of a shaken faith; instead it is proof of a vivid, profound faith.  You cannot long for something that is non-existent, one person said.  However, other statements Mother Teresa made leaves one wondering if her advocates are calling “red” what Mother Teresa herself called “blue.”  After having won an important prize, she penned: “This means nothing to me, because I don’t have Him.”  

What is stunning is the clear articulation of her spiritual emptiness; they are in no uncertain terms.  What is even more striking is that these sentiments are not unlike another prominent Catholic.  This other Catholic was a priest who lived nearly 500 years ago.  His name is Martin Luther.  If you are somewhat familiar with his testimony, you hear Mother Teresa echoing his spiritual agony to some degree  Certainly there are differences, but the spiritual struggle and pain and quite similar.  His zealous Catholic faith never satisfied his thirsty soul, though he took immense pains to “do” everything he was supposed to do to find favor with God: to be righteous enough to merit salvation.  He never found it in Catholicism or the sacraments or the liturgy, and one wonders if Mother Teresa ever did either.  It was not until Luther realized that the imputed righteous of God in Christ was a gift of God, not earned, simply appropriated by faith, were the torments of his soul removed.  Luther learned that Christianity is not about doing (earning righteousness) it is about being (standing judicially righteous before God only by being clothed in the imputed righteousness of God in Jesus Christ). 

2 Cor. 5:21 (ESV) “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Spiritual emptiness is experienced because, as Paschal said, we have a “God-shaped void” in our hearts.  We seek to fill that void through our own righteousness (that is, playing the part of religion).  Until God Himself fills this void, it will remain a person’s deepest inner longing to have it filled with something.  If her faith was comprised by the teachings of the Catholic Church it is no surprise that she wrote so candidly about this void.  True Christianity is, as Luther so boldly proclaimed, about faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.  Not Christ + Mary, not Christ + the sacraments.  Tozer rightly said “Jesus will never stand next to a plus sign.”  Make no mistake, her struggles were not unique to her.  Perhaps you share her same struggle, we ALL do, every one of us, because we are by nature enemies of God (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:3).  Look to the cross of Jesus Christ and realize that sin required payment that we could not pay.  But we must also see that Jesus paid the price and in Him is all the righteousness you ever need to possess eternal life.  Faith in anything or anyone else is futile.  The best-known and simplest verse in the entire Bible is what provides the answer to the most profound question we can ask: how can I have peace with God?  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever [place your name here] believes on Him, will not perish, but have eternal life.”          

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