Dave said: It demonstrates to me at least that "faith" as practiced and understood by many Christians (and others) is not based on evidence or anything demonstrable, but is rather a choice of affiliations that we make for a variety of complex and individually diverse reasons.
I liked how you put this. The reason I raised the issue "what is faith?" is that that very term is critical to this discussion. Are we willing to overlook the persistent, unending doubt and lack of experience in Mother Teresa because she was "Mother Teresa?"
When I expressed doubt online several years ago (the extent of my doubts at the time had to do with not seeing Scripture as the inerrant word of God and wondering what the Son of God actually meant), I was asked to "re-sign" a statement of faith before I was allowed to be a camp counselor for a homeschool group. Never mind that I had already signed it years before. Never mind that I was expressing doubt, yet had not "settled" anywhere in my beliefs at that point in time.
The response I received from those in charge was that doubts assail us all, but we are not to express them publicly (only privately) and that if I could no longer sign the statement of faith at that moment in time, I no longer believed. Belief had to be asserted, not doubted. Had I been Teresa, apparently, I would have signed as an act of faith. Yet in my tradition, scrupulous honesty was valued. The woman who "outed me" to the leadership made it clear in a phone call that she was "counting on the fact that I'm an honest heart" (and therefore would not sign) and would not force her hand by "making her" send the "incriminating" writings to the leadership team.
In other words, had I signed the SoF, I would have had to endure the humiliation of being seen as someone who was lying about my faith in addition to doubting aspects of it.
So that brings me back to Teresa. She knew she could not express this doubt publicly and did not. She kept it private and in writing, asking for these testimonies of doubt to be destroyed.
So here's the first question: Why? Why did she know that doubt is incompatible with profession of faith? What consequence did she fear?
If not experiencing God and doubting God, yet working for God anyway is what constitutes admirable faith (and we all know that supposedly), why aren't more leaders and lay Christians openly expressing doubts on a regular basis, yet going to church and doing Christian work anyway? Why is there such emphasis on conforming to beliefs? How does doubt fit in with belief?
Carrie: I see Teresa's perseverance as proof of her faith, not evidence of lack of it.
Well, let's look at that for a minute.
In the article, it states:
She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"Is Teresa admitting to lying? Sounds like it. Hypocrisy is a strong word to use to describe self. Avoiding hypocrisy has been the guiding principle of my re-evaluation of faith. I have attempted "with God, without God and before God" (as Bonhoeffer might put it) to openly describe my spiritual state as truthfully as I knew how because I saw a close link between truth (Jesus is supposed to have said he is the way, the TRUTH, and the life) and spiritual health. Why didn't Teresa?
I suggest it's because she had the expectation that her condition was abnormal. She believed herself to be hated by God and couldn't understand why. That means at some point in time, she received teaching that did not suggest faith was the persistence in good works while filled with doubt and a lack of experiences in God.
When someone complains that they have never experienced God (or don't), what advice do you give? What helpful comments have you received? Most of the time, the suffering soul is asked to pray more, to confess sin, to receive the gift of tongues, to enter soaking prayer, to attend more powerful worship, to trust that some day that experience will reach him or her.
How do I know this? It's what I've heard taught - over and over and over again. Testimonials of how God warmed Wesley's heart (even Bonhoeffer's heart) are shared in church as evidence of God as personal, not remote, distant and hidden. Catholics have told me that if I received Eucharist again, I'd become faith-filled and find the Real Presence.
Teresa's story should be a shockwave heard around the world of faith. If not her (she was not to receive comfort or God's presence), then why me or anyone else? But even more, why not confess these feelings publicly?
For instance: would it have been more "faith-filled" for a person like me to pretend belief during doubt, to wear a mask, to act as though I believed while I doubted? Is that the model Teresa might be giving us?
So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?We get a glimpse here. Blasphemy! The horrid word. Yes - exactly. That is why we hide doubt and belief is meant to be confessed publicly. But at what cost? What does that do to many who don't know the extent to which doubt is harbored even in the most holy of Christian examples?
Teresa persevered in her work (which could be described as faith, though that has not been the definition I've run into in most Christian contexts - confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, belief in the true doctrines of the RCC). She hid her doubts, learned to live with them, she acted as though God was real and with her despite a lack of experience to correspond with it (assuming the article is a fair representation of the book).
But there is a problem here that I think should be addressed theologically. When someone cries out to God (who purportedly knows all about us and could reach us as unique individuals) and eventually finds solace and comfort and another never does... what does that say about the responsiveness of God?
I wish we wouldn't run from the crisis for faith this ought to create, because theology could get a lot more robust and creative if we faced the disappointment it is to find out that we can’t know that we’ve ever apprehended God, that we can’t tell if he’s apprehended us, that our devotion and prayers don’t necessarily create “relationship” (the most popular way evangelical Christians, for instance, describe religion).
So I ask again: What is faith? If faith is the dogged persistence to hide doubts and live out precepts without any corresponding sense of their being true… well, wow. That's brand new news to me.
Is it good news? Is that the Gospel? Is that relationship and not religion? Is that what it means to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Is that what it means to receive the Real Presence?
I think these questions deserve more than a passing apologetic.