Did Mother Teresa have doubts? Did she have questions about God, even agonizing over why the Creator allows suffering, poverty and evil? Of course she did! So do many saintly or godly women and men. However, doubt is not necessarily an enemy of faith in God. Actually, an honest, sincere kind of doubt is rooted in the search for truth, being open-minded to finding satisfactory answers to questions about one’s faith. I do not think that Mother Teresa, with her “rich” theological and philosophical heritage, was suffering from intellectual doubt. In what follows, I will explain why.
Feelings of Distance from God
Sometimes, Mother Teresa had felt as though she were only “going through the motions” of being a Christian, of serving others. For example, in one of her letters, she confessed,
“If you only knew what goes on within my heart. – Sometimes the pain is so great that I feel as if everything will break. The smile is a big cloak which covers a multitude of pains.”1
At others times, she had felt as if her faith were contradictory, desiring to be near God but feeling repulsed by him. In another letter, she admits,
“There is so much contradiction in my soul. – Such deep longing for God -– … a suffering continual – and yet not wanted by God – repulsed – empty – no faith – no love – no zeal. … Heaven means nothing – to me it looks like an empty place – the thought of it means nothing to me….”2
However, note well: Mother Teresa is experiencing the feeling, not the reality, of the absence of God. Faith is not a feeling! Rather, faith proceeds from the will. It is a decision, a firm, lifelong commitment to God. As such, it is not reducible to feelings about God. If it were, then a person’s life would, indeed, be contradictory, for on one day a person may have faith; and on another, he or she may not.
Mother Teresa may have been suffering from emotional, not intellectual, doubt. C. S. Lewis explains what goes on inside a person suffering from emotional doubt, saying,
“I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old sceptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feelings of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. Mind you I don’t think so – the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so.”3
Similarly, in still another letter, Mother Teresa, now a saint in the Latin or Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, expresses her emotional doubts. It reads, in part,
“Where is my faith? — even deep down, right in, there is nothing, but emptiness …[and] darkness. … [H]ow painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing. – I have no faith. — I dare not utter the words … [and] thoughts that crowd in my heart … [and] make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me.”4
Elsewhere, she writes,
“In my soul I feel … that terrible pain of loss – … of God not being God … of God not really existing. … I have no faith – I don’t believe.”5
Prolonged stress adversely affects a person’s emotions.6 That may be why Mother Teresa, constantly caring for men, women and children in poverty and homelessness; in starvation, suffering and death, questions God. For certain periods of time in a believer’s life – some lasting longer than others – he or she may feel frustrated, at a loss for answers to his or her questions. That applies, in principle, to Mother Teresa. However, it does not mean she had rejected her faith; that she no longer believed in God.
That Mother Teresa’s questioning of God is not a denial of her faith is evident from the example of Jesus himself, the Founder of Christianity. While undergoing excruciating pain and suffering, as he approaches his death, he cries out to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46b, NIV). Those are also the words of the psalmist or biblical poet, another believer in God, yet questioning God (cf. Psalm 22:1, NIV).
Living with Unanswered Questions
If many, if not most, questions about life and its problems find answers by believing in God, then it is prudent to live by faith. Not having all the answers does not mean that a person’s faith is wrong. Rather, it means that he or she is a finite creature or finitum non capax infiniti, that is, “the finite cannot grasp or contain the infinite,” the creature cannot comprehend the Creator. After all, if every question has a rational explanation, one which reason alone can settle, then faith would no longer be faith; rather, it would be reducible to reason.
Mother Teresa did not abandon her faith in the Lord! Likewise, there are times in a believer’s life, when he or she may have a kind of psychological ambivalence, a mixture of belief and doubt, which says, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24b, NASB). Faith is a process, a pilgrimage, a journey to God. In that journey, there will be struggles, emotional “ups-and-downs,” questions and even doubts. But by the Lord’s grace, trusting in his providential guidance of a believer’s life, doubt eventually gives way to faith; belief eventually overcomes unbelief.
- Mother Teresa, “Letter to Archbishop Perier, July 15, 1958,” in Mother Teresa – Come be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta,” ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk (New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 2007), p. 176.
- Ibid., “Letter to Archbishop Perier, February 28, 1957,” p. 169.
- C. S. Lewis, The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914 – 1963), ed. Walter Hooper (New York, N.Y.: Collier/Macmillan, 1986), pp. 398-399.
- Mother Teresa, “Letter to Jesus, Undated,” in Mother Teresa – Come be My Light, p. 187.
- Cf. Frank B. Minirth, In Pursuit of Happiness: Choices That Can Change Your Life (Grand Rapids, MI.: Fleming H. Revell/ Baker Book House Company, 2004), pp. 68-83.