Friday, September 07, 2007

Trying to Understand Mother Teresa's Spiritual Struggles

I've been trying to get my head around the recently publicized revelations regarding Mother Teresa. People whom I've read seem to be able to assimilate this information into their already-held worldview without much difficulty; I'm having a more difficult time with it. That's not because I can't identify with such feelings of spiritual abandonment. But making sense of it is a more difficult proposition. The options seem to be these:
  1. The Athiestic Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because there is no God whose presence could be felt. Christian writers that I've seen have accused athiests of exploiting this situation for propaganda purposes, but really, you have to admit that athiests have Ockham's Razor on this one.

  2. The "She Wasn't Saved" Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because she didn't truly know Jesus as her savior. I've read people say that others have come to this conclusion; I haven't read anyone write this themselves. Probably I don't frequent those types of sites. For a reason.

  3. The Bad Theology Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because she held to a works-centered theology rather than a faith-centered theology. If only she had come to Luther's epiphany, she would have realized that she didn't have to do all that she did to earn God's favor; He is only pleased with our faith.

    The thing that strikes me about those who would contend #3 (usually in combination with #2) is that many of them tend to ridicule present-day spiritual experience. All that ended when the Apostle John died. We now have The Closed Canon, through which (through only which) we can experience God and hear from Him. If we deny this, we deny Sola Scriptura, which leads to an open-ended New Age how-can-we-be-sure-of-anything yada yada yada. So a lack of spiritual experience proves them right, and Teresa wrong. Uh huh.

  4. The "Great Saints Fight Great Battles" Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because God was allowing her to go through a particularly strong trial, for reasons we may speculate on but ultimately are known only to Him. She was identifying with Jesus' passion; she was identifying with the spiritual darkness of those whom she was ministering to; she had to go through this in order to continue with the work she had been given.

  5. The "Teresa's Struggle Is Our Struggle" Option: Teresa was simply inordinately forthright with her confessors about a common spiritual malady. I've seen people write that they are using her book as a devotional, that she is spiritually inspiring. I can understand how realizing that we are not alone in our struggles can be a comfort, and that that comfort may be even more pronounced when the one who shares our struggles is noteworthy; but I find it hard to find any joy in the misery of a fellow human being, especially a fellow believer who has devoted her life to God's service.

    The last two items, it seems, cancel each other out. Either Teresa was unique, or she represented all of us. She can't have been both. Moreover, if she represented all (or a significant number) of us, doesn't that really just support the idea of #1? I'm not saying I agree with #1; I'm just saying Ockham's Razor, blah blah blah. This is particularly difficult for someone in my spiritual tradition--Pentecostal--that emphasizes the present-day experience of God's presence.

  6. The Psychological Option: Teresa didn't experience God's presence because she had some psychological need to compensate for her success. She had to punish herself, or give herself a reason for humility, and so therefore she subconsciously contrived her entire spiritual struggle. But then that lends itself to the theory that perhaps all spiritual experience is at bottom just psychological, which leads....
You see why I'm struggling with this? It's not that I think the athiests are right; I don't. Many of us have felt God's presence, even if we also experience periods when He seems absent. Many of us can attest to objective changes in our lives as a result of God's work in us. The history of Christianity cannot be explained without at least some spiritual objective beginning. But I find it difficult to understand why the God who loves us will withhold His presence from us, especially for prolonged periods of time.

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1 comment:

  1. Keith, I don't know that it is God who witholds His presence at all. I remember reading somewhere that when we can't see God in our lives it is because His hand is so close to our face. I think it is something like that.

    Feeling God is not the same as knowing God. He does not say "be still and feel that I am God." He says, "Be still and know that I am God." And just because we don't feel Him doesn't mean He's not right there with us. selahV