Friday, August 24, 2007

"Yet I will rejoice in the Lord"

The Time article about "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith" has been receiving much attention, with religious skeptics and atheists suggesting that it is evidence against the truth claims of Christianity. They seem unfamiliar with the faith, called by the name of the man who, about to die, quoted the first phrase of the 22nd Psalm "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" which goes on "Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest." [ESV]

The experience of many of the faithful - recounted in the Psalms, not to mention Job and Habakkuk, and that of Our Lord Himself - should leave no believer with the illusion that feelings will always [or ever] confirm God's presence with us.

When we don't feel His presence, it is important to imitate the Psalmist:
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
Psalm 77:11 [ESV]
Our confidence in Him is not based on our feelings, but on what He has done.

The Internet Monk has written about the "Mystery of God's Absence" here.

Stand to Reason says this:
Mother Teresa's letters about her relationship with God have been published, and they have revealed a woman who served God faithfully yet had no sense of God's presence in her life. Time magazine says this revelation is a contradiction with her continued profession of faith.
Not all atheists and doubters will agree. Both Kolodiejchuk and Martin assume that Teresa's inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn't there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work. But to the U.S.'s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd.
But this is no contradiction and not absurd at all because Christianity is not based on feelings but on convictions and trust in what we've been persuaded is true. Feelings can accompany faith and sometimes they don't. Most Christians go through dry times; some Christians rarely experience such feelings. None of that changes the conviction that Jesus is the Savior and the trust we put in Him to reconcile us to God.

There are many things in life we do out of conviction, commitment, faithfulness even when our feelings aren't in it. Marriage and parenthood are prime examples of this. Feelings come and go; conviction and commitment endure and are the essence of our relationship with Jesus.
From the Time article:
Kolodiejchuk thinks the book may act as an antidote to a cultural problem. "The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on," he says. "And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability. Mother Teresa wasn't 'feeling' Christ's love, and she could have shut down. But she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still writing to him, 'Your happiness is all I want.' That's a powerful example even if you are not talking in exclusively religious terms."

America's Martin wants to talk precisely in religious terms. "Everything she's experiencing," he says, "is what average believers experience in their spiritual lives writ large. I have known scores of people who have felt abandoned by God and had doubts about God's existence. And this book expresses that in such a stunning way but shows her full of complete trust at the same time."
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,

The produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

The flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 [ESV]

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