Mother Theresa and Faith
Mother Teresa and Faith
Time Magazine this week featured an expose on Mother Teresa's life-long struggle to believe... as if it were a stunning revelation that someone so devoted to Jesus and the poor the Galilean rabbi loved so much should be bereft for the greater part of her life of a feeling of his presence.
It could be, of course, as with many of the heroes of Christianity, the little Albanian nun, having once sensed Jesus' presence deeply in her life, grieved the more his absence. Mystics name it "the dark night of the soul," the spiritual equivalent of a bipolar victim's depression.
I, no mystic and not particularly an enthusiast, prefer another explanation. Mother Teresa fell victim to an expectation rampant in our world, that being faithful means being filled with God. Faith, dear friends, is not an emotion. Faith is not a state of being. Faith is not - and here, perhaps, is the nub of the modern misunderstanding - mere credulity.
That premise, faith as credulity, informs much of the Time article and all of Christopher Hitchens' fulminations.
To tell you God's honest truth: anyone who comes at me spouting their absolute certainty of the presence in their heart of the Lord Jesus finds me courteous, of course, but finds me also suspecting I am in the presence of someone without an active intelligence. I've been there and suffered that as a pastor (and, therefore, a collector of expressions of faithful exuberance) throughout fifty years of tending souls. Come to think of it, the Bible offers far more illustration of people who have struggled to believe, than those robustly asserting their flaming certainty. Want chapter and verse? Email me.
Doubt, that is, uncertainty about everything one is supposed to believe, is not just normal; it's human.
Faith is what you bet your life on. As with any bet, there is risk. There are moments, maybe many of them, when you say to yourself, "Maybe I'm wrong; maybe it's all smoke and mirrors." But you push ahead anyway. I am placing the same bet as Mother Teresa: on Jesus. That he is the way to go, that he is the truth about us and the world, and that he is what life is all about.
Am I always faithful to him? Hell, no. But, like Tony, my Valley Stream auto mechanic said to me when I failed to fix a carburetor and he had to pick up the pieces, "I'll say this for you, Mr. Howard, you try." I hope that at the end of days when I stand before the final docket a similar benediction may be voiced from the throne of grace, that I did try.
It's really not for me to say, but, of course, I'll say it anyway, that the little woman who patrolled the precincts of death in Calcutta tried a whole lot more than any of the twenty or so American evangelists who spring immediately to mind, all of them filled with absolute certainty in their beliefs.
My dear departed friend, Margaret McManus' favorite verse of Scripture, one cited in my reading again by a Canadian theologian, classmate, and friend of yore, Douglas John Hall, is Mark 9:24, voiced there by the father of a son whom dad prays Jesus will heal, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"