“I do believe; help my unbelief.” -- Statement made by man to Jesus, Mark 9:24
This verse has always intrigued me, in part because I was able to relate to the man. Even with God right in front of me for so many years, I doubted. Two sides struggled: one that wanted to believe and the other that said it wasn't rational. I knew I wasn't the only person to go through this, but I never thought someone of such stature as Mother Teresa would have struggled in such a manner.
The Vatican is looking into whether or not to grant sainthood to Mother Teresa. As one priest was researching this issue, he uncovered a number of letters written by Mother Teresa throughout her life to her confessors and supervisors. She had asked that the letters be destroyed after her death, but the Catholic Church chose not to do so. The letters have been compiled into a book and news reports (see Time article here) have focused on an intriguing theme of many of her writings: Mother Teresa's faith, or apparent lack thereof.
Shortly after she began her ministry in Calcutta, a crisis of faith began. She wrote, "Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. ... If there be God — please forgive me."
Several years later she writes, "Such deep longing for God." "… repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal." She even referred to her smile as a "mask." Another excerpt says, "What do I labor for?" "If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true."
It is not unusual for people of faith to question their beliefs or their God, especially Judeo-Christians. In the Old Testament, Habakkuk wrote, "How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted." Habakkuk later asks, "Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?"
Such questions are not limited to God's followers, but were also asked by Christ himself. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, while hanging on the cross shortly before he died, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Without getting into a theological discussion about the need for Christ to die on the cross for the sin's of humanity (or the doctrine of the trinity), it is important to note that Christ at this moment in His life felt alone.
I have asked similar questions during my life. By my mid-20's, I had buried my biological parents (my father was killed by a drunk driver when I was 8 months old and my mother died of a sudden stomach problem when I was 26 after years of dealing with a painful disease). Watching my mom slowly turn from a strong woman to a sick and fragile shell in a matter of 10 years was painful to witness. The obvious thought popped up in my head, "Why?" There appeared to be many evil people that had lived long lives with lots of money and power. Yet, my loving mother died before she got to see my daughter -- her granddaughter -- be born. She will never see either of my sisters marry or hold their children. It seemed like such an injustice.
During my college years, which was the time that she became progressively worse, I struggled with God over this issue. I never questioned God's existence, but I did question His love and His nature. If He would allow such an injustice, He certainly did not deserve my worship. I did not feel this everyday, but there were low points where this feeling was prevalent.
Years later, my anger went away. It is a long story, but I managed to answer many of the tough questions that plagued me during my high school and college years (Romans 8:20-22 helped, among many other passages, from a theological point of view, as did C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity). When my mom passed away when I was 26, I had a peace that I never expected. The doubts of my adolesence did not surface. Had she died only a few years prior, I would have likely not reacted in such a calm matter (not to say I didn't break down...I cried for several days and still feel a since of loss today). What helped for me to know was that I had been given a Savior who knows exactly what we are going through. Jesus suffered and died on a cross to pay for a crime He didn't commit. He suffered for me. It spite of this, He kept His faith and followed the plan which God the Father had set for Him.
Mother Teresa's writings give us an interesting perspective on a person who dedicated her life to serve Christ. In spite of her doubts and questions, she continued to serve. Against all odds, she pressed forward in the name of Christ. Her letters make me wonder if it is possible to lack large amounts of faith, but still have hope? That is what seemed to occur in her life. She doubted God, but lived like He was there. Maybe she did have a little faith, maybe as small as the mustard seed, and was still able to move the mountain.