“Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” — Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979
Time Magazine came out with a whole slew of “Top 10″ lists this week, from the top 10 moments in sports to the top 10 Middle East stories. At the head of their “Top 10 Religion Stories” list was the publishing of Mother Teresa’s private letters.
If you missed the story when it first broke, a collection of private letters between Mother Teresa and several of her confidants was collected and published by Doubleday, under the title Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. What made this otherwise innocuous event newsworthy were the passages in which she speaks of deep doubts and confusions, where the Angel of Calcutta professes her long periods of doubt, her struggle to believe that a compassionate God could exist, in the face of such overwhelming suffering. That kind of doubt seemed, to those reporting on it, to be inconsistent with the image of stalwart sainthood so cherished by millions.
Of course, anyone who has pursued the life of faith knows that’s not true. We make peace with our doubts, or we flee them, but we don’t ever outgrow them. The presence of doubt in so great a life as Mother Teresa’s is not evidence that religion and devotion are a sham; they are evidence that faith, once awakened by the intimacy of God, can sustain a lifetime of duty and virtue even in the presence of great doubt.
One of the better reflections on faith and doubt was written by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, as quoted by Dallas Willard at the opening of The Divine Conspiracy. Writing as the demon Uncle Screwtape, C.S. Lewis says,
“You must have often wondered why the enemy [God] does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For his ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve … Sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentive. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish … He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand … Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”