Mother Theresa and the Dark Night of the Soul

A new book sheds an unexpected light on the iconic Mother Teresa. The description in TIME magazine has shocked many, and when you read the following excerpt you will see why.

‘A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”‘

As the rest of the article reveals, the atheist Christopher Hitchens is fairly cynical about Mother Teresa’s crises of faith. The article goes on:

‘To the U.S.’s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd. They will see the book’s Teresa more like the woman in the archetypal country-and-western song who holds a torch for her husband 30 years after he left to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned. Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.”‘

Here’s the rest of it: “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith” – by David Van Biema (TIME)

(HT: Bruce Tomaso)

15 Responses to Mother Theresa and the Dark Night of the Soul

  1. Wade Cashion August 27, 2007 at 11:19 am #

    I guess there really is a difference between a relationship and a religion-

    It is neat to think of how God can use this seemingly horrible situation to help bring many religious people out of the darkness and into the light!

  2. Wesley August 27, 2007 at 2:27 pm #

    Not “feeling the presence of God” does not mean He was not there with her. Besides, if I give her the benefit of the doubt and say her faith was genuine she’s in his presence anyway.

  3. troy doucet August 27, 2007 at 4:26 pm #

    i have read and been inspired by many of mother teresa’s quotes as well as her iconic social status. yet, just as faith without works is indeed dead, so to is works without faith.

    “faith comes by hearing (and hearing, and hearing…etc.) the word of god”

    for all the numerous quotes she has articulated-that we all randomly use -from abortion to helping the poor and needy…not very often do we holistically find scripture at the heart of her movement.

  4. jordan August 27, 2007 at 6:14 pm #

    As J.I. Packer wrote, “God frequently tries us by leading us through wastes of emotional flatness.”

  5. Paul August 27, 2007 at 6:28 pm #

    One thing to keep in mind: it said that she didn’t feel God’s presence. It says that she’s had her doubts. That hardly means that she didn’t believe.

    At the end of the day, if she knew that Christ died for her sins and she accepted Him as her savior, then she’s in Heaven, and that’s that.

    No matter what, one thing that needs to be said: we can complain about Mother Theresa when we’ve done a tenth of what she did.

  6. Wade Cashion August 27, 2007 at 10:38 pm #

    So she doubted if there was a god. . .What??

    That’s not the kind of faith that saves- here is a quote from one of her letters:

    “What do I labor for? If there be no god, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, you also are not true.”

    It does not sound to me as if she was a believer.

    The work she did was wonderful for humanity, but beyond that, without faith, it means nothing.

    If we are in Christ, then in God’s eyes we have accomplished 10X all that mother Theresa did. In Christ we have defeated satan and death. We are joint heirs!

    I hope that my orginal statement is not taken as a complaint about mother theresa, but rather a prayer that God will use this to bring some into the light!

    Grace and Peace!

  7. Wesley August 28, 2007 at 10:11 am #

    So, any doubts at all are never made by genuine believers? How do you figure that?

  8. Paul August 28, 2007 at 10:54 am #

    “If we are in Christ, then in God’s eyes we have accomplished 10X all that mother Theresa did. In Christ we have defeated satan and death. We are joint heirs!”

    This is what we refer to as a cop out. To say that Tom DeLay or Ken Lay (who both claimed to be born again) accomplished more than Mother Theresa did is a joke.

    When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, that’s a first step towards being a Christian. Yes, it’s the step that gets us into heaven, but it’s hardly the only step that we must take. We must then look to the scriptures, and try to live as Jesus did, knowing that we’re forgiven when we stumble (and we stumble every day).

    There are plenty of Christians who talk about the great commission. They tell people about Jesus, and then act like fools. Mother Theresa, it seems to me, really tried to live the great commission. Which seems to be a much better way to spread the gospel, to me anyway.

    It’s kind of funny. The people who wish to be the most missional are the ones that often times goof up the theology. The ones that get the theology straight are often times the ones that sit on their butts and do nothing with it.

    If someone can explain that one to me, I’ll be eternally grateful.

  9. Wade Cashion August 28, 2007 at 6:01 pm #

    I’ll withdraw now.

    Thanks

  10. Carlito August 29, 2007 at 9:41 am #

    Paul –

    I think you’re right in one sense that some people are prone to study theology and sound doctrine without taking some of Jesus’ commands seriously, while some people simply want to engage in humanitarian efforts without taking the Bible or truth seriously. However, I think the point that Wade is trying to make has to do with the old adage “Just one life to live, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Any good work not done in faith and obedience (and for God’s glory alone) is called a dead work.

    There is a reason the Reformation took place!! Catholicism is dangerous because of the heavy emphasis on works, i.e. earning one’s salvation. We must start with grace and then follow that with obedience, not vice versa. And that is a daily battle – because we’re all by nature legalists – therefore, we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day. I love the phrase “motivated by grace” because it implies that we do good, seek justice, defend the orphan, plead for the widow, etc. BECAUSE of the mercy and agape love that we have received in Christ. So, works are the caboose and grace is the engine. It was for freedom that Christ set us free.

    This is what Luther discovered that set him free to live a life of service and ministry without feeling a dreary obligation to do so. When our knowledge of God is true (sound theology) and we are using that knowledge to increase our communion and intimacy with Him (and we understand grace, justification, sanctification, etc. in the correct light), we’re going to be highly motivated to do those good works. See Ephesians 2:10.. It’s the platform, the foundation, the springboard unto which we minister to the world. If good works are the “engine” of the train, we might as well be Hindus.

    I’m not saying that if we have our theology correct, all of our humanitarian efforts will be roses and we will never struggle with our faith. That’s not what I’m arguing at all. However, I would argue that over the long haul, a correct (biblical) view of grace, faith and works will enable us to perform Kingdom-building ministry without becoming heavily burdened or hopeless (as it seems Mother Teresa became)..

    By the way, Tim Keller has a great book on this subject called “Ministries of Mercy”.. I would strongly recommend this to anyone and everyone.

    One more thing – The reason I love John Piper’s ministry so much is that he’s doctrinally hard-core reformed (heavily God-centered), and yet his passion for humanitarian efforts, mercy ministry, compassionate community outreach, and international missions is unparalleled.

    I think this shows that you can have the best of both worlds. In fact, I would argue that having this balance is necessary for a life of JOYFUL ministry and service to the lost and needy.

    In Christ,
    Carlito

  11. Paul August 29, 2007 at 2:33 pm #

    Carlito,

    I totally get what you’re saying. And I’m not saying that works alone do much of anything — they don’t. But what I was getting at is that we’re supposed to be able to see the fruits of Christ’s redemption in our actions and efforts. And if that’s any indication of where MT was at in life, then even without “feeling” the presence of God, she was still a mighty tree bearing an awful lot of fruit. After all, she never said that she didn’t believe. She never said she didn’t have faith. She simply said that she had her doubts. And who among us hasn’t had those?

    I deal with doubt every day. It’s one of the reasons that I visit sites like this one every day. To remind myself that there are people out there that do believe, and they have a legion of reasons to believe. While I might not agree with Denny on, well, practically anything except redemption by the blood of Christ, it’s good to see that there are people out there that believe as much as I should.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m ultra-sensitive to stories like this, and people’s reactions to them. I go on a daily quest to figure out which denomination, or which train of thought or which philosophical viewpoint has it right. Because I certainly haven’t figured that part out yet. The people on the left of the theological debate often treat Christianity as nothing more than a lifestyle, which I don’t at all understand. The people on the right seemingly focus on a narrow vision of what Christianity might ought to be, and that peeves me to no end.

    So, I end up just as confused as ever.

    I’ll check out Keller’s book. Maybe it will offer some insight.

    Thanks.

  12. Carlito August 29, 2007 at 3:21 pm #

    Hey Paul,

    Good words and I’m right there with you, bro. In the world we live in, “faithing” is not an easy task at all – especially for those like me (and maybe you) who tend to be quite melancholic, over-analytical, over-critical, and introspective. I think one of the beautiful things about the Christian journey is that we never “arrive” to a complete understanding of things. We’ll never completely grasp the mysteries of being a child of God until we are in His presence in heaven with glorified bodies.

    One of the frustrating things about being a Christian is that there’s not an easy formula where we come to a point and say “OK, now everything makes sense and I’ve got it all figured out and I know exactly how to live and what to do with my life.” That, my friend, keeps us all humble and dependent upon God alone – as well it should.

    I love the passage in 1 Cor. 1 where Paul talks about the wisdom of God and how it is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. The reason it’s foolishness is that it doesn’t make sense most of the time – even to those who have been born anew in the blood of Jesus. And yet, as verse 19 says, He will destroy the wisom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever He will set aside.

    Another great passage is John 6, where Jesus says a whole lot of things that don’t make sense to human ears, and a good number of His disciples leave Him. When Jesus asks Peter if he’s planning to leave too, Peter responds: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life”. Man, that gives me goosebumps every time I read it.

    The bottom line – let’s repent of our neglect of God and His commandments and the way we belittle His power and love for us, and fall at His feet as a little child with simple faith, crying “Abba, Father”.. His mercy seat is open still…

    p.s. definitely check out the Keller book – I think you’ll like it…

    p.p.s. another book that might be good is Piper’s “What Jesus Demands from the World”..

    God bless, amigo……….

  13. Wade Cashion August 31, 2007 at 1:45 am #

    Amen and Amen – to Paul and Carlito

    Grace and Peace!

  14. Charles Upton September 7, 2007 at 12:46 pm #

    Dear People:

    The public response to the “revelation” that Mother Theresa was subject to doubts and long periods of spiritual dryness says more about the spiritual state of our culture than it does about her. People nowadays can’t understand why she would remain a Catholic if she wasn’t “getting off” on it. Where’s the euphoria? Where’s the payoff? If Catholicism was such a “downer” for her, why didn’t she just move on? The idea of suffering for one’s Beloved (human or Divine!) as being a high privilege is meaningless to such people.
    (Remember Don Novello’s character of Guido Sarducci, gossip columnist for La Osservatore Romano on Saturday Night Live? In one of his sketches he talked about a plan to remove the cross from Catholic churches because “the logo is a downer.” I’m not sure people could understand the humor of that today.)

    It may be that God was calling Mother Theresa, who in “natural” terms was a “cataphatic” contemplative, subject to visions and auditions and sensible consolations, to a different vocation: that of the apophatic contemplative, who encounters God in the barrenness, mortification and dark night of all the faculties of the soul — until he or she learns that the feeling of God’s absence is the very SIGN of His presence. And she may not have fully understood everything that such a call might entail.

    We mustn’t forget that Christ felt abandoned by God too: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Clearly he never doubted God’s existence; atheists never feel “abandoned by God.” And I’m sure that Mother Theresa never doubted His existence either; she simply mourned His felt absence, like John of the Cross, and Rumi, and so many other mystics always have. So what else is new? What else is new is that people are clueless nowadays about the fundamentals of the spiritual life.

    Sincerely,
    Charles Upton
    cupton@qx.net

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Denny Burk » Al Mohler’s Comments on Mother Teresa - August 30, 2007

    […] We discussed Mother Teresa’s “dark night of the soul” earlier this week. It’s also the topic of conversation at the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog. Dr. Albert Mohler has weighed in on the matter, and here is what he concludes: […]

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