Friday, August 24, 2007

Mother Teresa's Dark Night

A new book chronicling the correspondence and interior life of Mother Teresa, Come by My Light, has spurred an article in Time magazine in which her doubts about the faith are highlighted. I did not expect it, but the article does a pretty good job of at least surveying the opinions of those who realize her doubts are an inevitable part of growth in the Christian faith. As soon as Christians began commenting on their walks with God, they openly and faithfully described those seasons in life in which God felt distant. Commonly referred to as the “dark night of the soul,” it is a universal experience among those who seek a deeper and stronger personal walk with Christ.

What may not be explicitly stated in the article is that more often than not, the faithful pilgrim comes out of the dark night into a deeper and almost inexpressible relationship with God. Instead of being some kind of deep realization that God does not exist, it is a passage into an intimacy with the Creator that many have a hard time describing once they get there.

The Christian reading about Mother Teresa’s doubts should not be discouraged—far from it. They should be encouraged that another follower of Christ went through their own season of doubt and questioning. We are not alone when we struggle and question, and the way to the other side—a deeper relationship with Christ—is through the issues we face, not around them.

In addition, Christians should take comfort in the fact that there is a great cloud of witnesses about us who testify to this reality of faith, and of God’s existence, grace, and love.

Predictably, however, is the quote from one of our village atheists, Christopher Hitchens. His position is that her doubts are proof that religion is a fabricated illusion. Time notes:

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."

In his gift for impaling himself on his own arguments, Hitchens seems to posit that doubts about a belief belie their falsehood. I wonder how he would handle the actual change of position for Anthony Flew, the rigorous and philosophically respectable former standard bearer for atheism? His doubts about the coherence of atheism in the face of the argument for Intelligent Design lead him to openly move away from his former position to a form of theism. The professing atheist can only write more and more books professing their faith and deepening the pit they have dug for themselves (to paraphrase a bit).


Rusty said...

C.S. Lewis said that while, as a Christian, there were days when he questioned his faith, when he was an atheist there were days that he questioned his atheism. The bottomline was that our faith shouldn't be contingently tied to our feelings, since our feelings are apt to be fleeting.

BTW, Laura Ingraham covered this story on her radio show this morning and, according to her, the news of Mother Teresa's doubts is old news.

The Gyrovague said...

I agree with the above. What those looking from the outside in at our faith are bitting off on hook line and sinker is that religion is all about personal happiness and nothing else. As you and I know we are far from it.

It is in the "dark night of the soul" when I "see but through a glass darkly" at the things above that yes, I feel separated from God. The liberation comes when I realize that my relationship is not predicated on always feeling God, but knowing by faith that he is as omnipresent and omniscient as he was yesterday and he will be tomorrow.

OPM said...

Even Charles Templeton a former preacher (a Billy Graham compadre)and the author of "Farewell to God" (for he walked away fom the faith as a result of his own personal spriritual crisis) -- even he doubted his doubts. You might recall Lee Strobel's interview (also a former atheist)asking Templeton "What about Jesus?" Strobel records that Templeton hung his head and cried, "I miss Him so much!" The interview was over -- for Templeton was too broken up to continue.

And you are so correct -- a person who comes out of the "dark night" and into His "marvelous light" does enjoy a greater degree of intimacy -- thanks for posting.

Phil Steiger said...


I think that is such an important point--the second we tie the truth value of our faith to our feelings is the same second it becomes hollow and meaningless. And I had also heard that about Mother Teresa's dark night being known for a while now. I am actually really looking forward to this book.

Phil Steiger said...


I think there is so much wisdom in what you raise - from time to time I need to reassure myself ("claim" it to be true if you will) that God exists and that He is omnipotent and omnibenevolent in spite of the way I am feeling at the moment. I get the sense over and over that this is exactly the exercize the Psalmists engage in. How often do they expose the depths of their depression and feelings of abandonment only to remark that the Lord is their salvation and very present help in time of trouble.

Phil Steiger said...


I have read about that story from time to time, and it intrigues me to almost no end.

I know that I have not endured what I would classify as a "dark night" (in the same way many saints experience it), but looking back on life I would not trade a single moment of my spiritual deserts for a vague and lifeless sense of "being fine." They taught me things I would never have otherwise known.