For the first time in more than 30 years, Mother Teresa graces the cover of Time magazine. But unlike the 1975 cover that hailed her as a living saint, this week's cover titillatingly trumpets, "The Secret Life of Mother Teresa." The subtitle declares, "Newly published letters reveal a beloved icon's 50-year crisis of faith." NBC led the TV pack with serious questions about her faith.
Those letters, written by Mother Teresa over more than 60 years, form a new book called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. So what do these letters really reveal? Newsflash: One of the great saints of the 20th century had doubts. At times, she even doubted the existence of God. Imagine that!
Now, to put this in perspective, imagine that for 60 years you waded knee-deep in the gutters of Calcutta to tend to the outcast and the dying. In the midst of unspeakable squalor and human suffering, might you at times not doubt God?
Here's more news: Mother Teresa struggled with depression. When you wrestle with the devil surrounded by human misery, you might have good cause to be depressed! I know from the years I have spent ministering in prisons. There are many times that you question, "Where's God?" To be depressed in such situations simply makes you human. To carry on through the depression reveals the hand of God.
Not surprisingly, Mother Teresa's letters are red meat for the media. And atheists like Christopher Hitchens could not resist ridiculing her dark night of the soul. "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person," Hitchens told Time. "Her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith [which] could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself." Hitchens even compared her to the old communists who realized their lives were meaningless after the Soviet Union collapsed. What rubbish!
And meaningless is the last word you would think of to describe Mother Teresa. To help the poorest of the poor die with dignity was the greatest example of faith, particularly while you are suffering yourself, with doubts and with pain and with depression.
She continued to do the toughest job anyone could possibly do. And she did it to her dying day. Why? As she wrote to her spiritual advisor, she submitted to God. "I accept," she wrote, "not in my feelings—but with my will, the Will of God—I accept His will." I came to that realization in my own dark night of the soul a couple of years ago when two of my three kids had cancer.
The very essence of faith, you see, is believing even in the absence of evidence. And it is the only way we can know Christ. We can conclude rationally that God exists, that His Word is true, and that He has revealed Himself. But without that leap of faith, we will never know God personally or accept His will in Christ.
So what do the letters of Mother Teresa reveal? For one, they reveal the true cost of discipleship. To follow Christ is to embrace suffering and the Cross. And, at times, to say with Jesus, "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?"
Certainly Mother Teresa took on the suffering of the world just as her Lord had done. And she demonstrated a kind of faith that few ever experience. But hers is a faith that will be a lasting witness to the world—when Christopher Hitchens and the media critics are long forgotten.
From BreakPoint®, August 29, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship