No Comfort in Faith

The recent revelation that Mother Teresa was a doubting Thomas almost the entire time she worked in India but yet remained faithful shows the lie that Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens would like to promulgate: belief in God is comforting.  (And here, I thought we were still struggling with Catholic Guilt.) While I’ve no doubt that some believers gain primarily comfort from their belief, the religion that Jesus teaches isn’t very comforting at all. “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” And, of course, any Mennonite knows that Martyrs Mirror is filled with stories of people who endured a great deal of suffering. My own children have listened to the lives of many martyrs in the Orthodox lexicon of Saints, Nikolai Velimirovich‘s Prologue — so many that whenever they hear the Emperor Diocletian‘s name mentioned, they can tell you the end of the story. Perhaps some people make Christianity out to be a nice bedtime story, but anyone who pays attention to what Jesus said or what Paul wrote knows that any comfort offered isn’t the whole story: we are called to live sacrificially. Which is exactly what Mother Teresa did. What strikes me most among discussions like this one is the idea that Mother Teresa had an obligation to announce her doubts to the world.  “She’s a public figure” the thinking goes “and she kept this from us?” Well, no, her struggle with doubt or the lack of God’s Presence was her own and she kept it between herself and her spiritual confessors.  If she wanted to announce her doubt and be done with it, she could have done that without making her life any more uncomfortable. Mother Teresa was doing something completely foreign to most of us.  Jack Welch was a better humanitarian.  Mother Teresa was not a humanitarian and Christopher Hitchen’s was right to discredit this notion of her.  Jesus said “You will always have the poor” and Mother Teresa understood this to mean that we should be more concerned with loving the poor and having compassion for them than with giving them a handout. “You take care of their tomorrows, I take care of their todays,” she said. Secularists won’t appreciate the way she chose to use her money.  Evangelicals won’t appreciate her Gospel.  Atheists see her doubts as her hypocrisy. But there is something else going on, also.  She identified with the poor in the same way Christ identified with us.  She emulated his compassion. And of course isn’t that the whole Problem of Evil all over again?  As Judas pointed out, the money spent on the perfume Mary poured on Jesus feet was a year’s wages — surely there was a more practical use for it.  Surely Jesus could have done more than forgive sins, couldn’t he?  He was God, after all, shouldn’t he have done more? Mother Teresa is someone many people can admire from a distance.  Most will be repulsed by her, though, if they take a closer look.  She shows us exactly why true religion isn’t comforting.

2 thoughts on “No Comfort in Faith”

  1. Re: some responses

    Thanks for bringing this up here. (I saw it on julieunplugged, too 😉

    1. Inasmuch as Catholics accept Christ as their “personal lord and savior”, they do not depend upon a single past event as confirmation. Rather, they live it out (or not) every single day. In this, we can say that she truly accepted his Lordship since she lived it out even though she didn’t feel like it.

    2. Christopher Hitchen’s et al will get no where, even with an infinite supply of ammo. Why? Because as Michael Shermer’s open letter states (linked above) “Anti-something movements will fail.” They have nothing to offer anyone except criticism and mockery. They will fail.

    I’m inclined to agree with the Catholic Church’s decision (though I wish Mother Teresa herself would have recognised the value of her letters and not asked for their destruction). We shouldn’t mislead people into thinking that they just need to accept Jesus and life will be grand. The obvious falseness of that is what Hitchen’s et al thrive on.

    Still, we are drawn to deeper experiences of unity with God. Theosis is seen as an experience of that unity, not a feeling of abandonment.

    Yet, we should understand that, like Job, even when we are abandoned, we are still given Grace. Psalm 13, to name just one instance, makes it clear that we don’t always feel God’s presence. This is a very difficult thing and most people don’t have to suffer through it.

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