The recent revelation that Mother Theresa’s personal spiritual experience was not always (or even often) ecstatic and that this cause her a certain degree of doubt has resulted in some interesting commentary about the nature of faith and its relationship to doubt and questioning.
Many say that faith, by definition, is a lack of questioning, a lack of examining the evidence, and a lack of doubt. According to these folks, faith is embracing a doctrine completely, no matter how irrational or unsupported by evidence. Atheist evangelist Christopher Hitchens and minister Paul Edwards both seem to fall into this camp.
Hitchens used to argue that Mother Theresa was an idiot because she blindly accepted everything the church taught her without doubting or questioning. Now that we know that to be false, Hitchens has changed his tune. He now thinks Mother Theresa was a fraud because she kept working for God even when she didn’t have any "faith" (as evidenced by her doubt and questioning). Hitchens finds it "rather unsurprising" that Mother Theresa lacked faith, because it is "the inevitable result of a dogma that asks people to believe impossible
things and then makes them feel abject and guilty when their innate
Edwards agrees with Hitchens, at least on certain points. He says that reason does rebel against faith, but rather than give in to reason, we must side with faith.
If all we have is
our innate reason to validate for us what otherwise seems impossible, then
indeed our efforts are futile, resulting in a chaos of the soul like that
demonstrated in Teresa’s letters. But the ability to believe impossible
things—like the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and ultimately in our own
resurrection—results not from innate reason, but from faith.
Edwards argues that this faith "begins where reason ends. Faith assures us precisely because our reason doesn’t." For Edwards, too, Mother Theresa’s doubting and questioning was a sign of her lack of faith. He argues that if she truly had faith, she would have had more assurance of a loving relationship with God. He again agrees with Hitchens, who suggested that Mother Theresa worked so hard for the poor because she was trying to "still the misery within" and even goes so far as to conclude that Mother Theresa could very well be one of those people who is not let into Heaven because she tried to work her way in rather than simply "trust" in Jesus.
Now, there seems to me absolutely no evidence for those two postulations. Indeed, I would suggest that the latter comes close to violating Jesus’ command not to judge. Be that as it may, I won’t focus on it right now. Instead, I want to concentrate on the definition of faith used by Hitchens and Edwards.While their definition may fit well into some religion’s understanding of faith (Islam and Mormonism come to mind), it is certainly not Christian.
Christian faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb 11:1). At least two issues about this definition need to be addressed.
First, Christian faith is not an embrace of irrationality or lack of evidence. It is trusting, based on evidence already presented, that something will occur in the future (or has occurred in the past, in rare instances). It is a lack of direct experience, certainly (one cannot directly experience something in the future or past), but not a lack of evidence. Faith is a lack of sight, not reason. The writer of Hebrews is making the argument that because God has already done all these things for us, we can be sure that he will bring about what he has promised: justice (punishment for those that reject him and reward for those that follow him.) Therefore, since we have all this evidence, we should have faith. The rest of the Bible follows this same format. God presents evidence of his power and goodness and then asks people to follow him in faith, trusting that He has their best interests at heart and has the power to see certain promises accomplished. This is not irrational at all. Rather, it is eminently reasonable.
The underlying assumption of the previous paragraph, of course, is that direct personal experience is not the only evidence for God or the truth of Christianity. While it can be an evidence, it is certainly not the only or the best. As Mother Theresa’s confessor told her "You are not so much in the dark as you think … You have exterior facts enough to see that God blesses your work … Feelings are not required and may be misleading."
Second, the mark of biblical faith is not one hundred percent emotional and intellectual certainty. It is obedience. The verse talks about being sure and certain, but it does not say how the people who have this condition will feel, it says how they will act. If you look at the rest of Hebrews 11, you will see many examples of people of strong faith. Without exception, they are described according to the actions they took (Noah built an ark, Abraham left home and offered his son, Rahab welcomed the spies, etc.) Nothing is said about the emotional or intellectual state of these heroes. In fact, we do know that in at least one case, that of David, a hero of faith had many instances where he felt depressed and abandoned by God. The Psalms are full of such laments, the most famous of which is probably 22:1, the passage Jesus quoted on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?"
According to the biblical definition of faith, a person who obeys is sure and certain, no matter how they feel. If, then, obedience is the mark of faith, assuming Mother Theresa was serving the poor out of obedience and not for her own self-aggrandizement or something else, then it is crazy to accuse her of not having faith, even in her troubled emotional and intellectual state.
But do we need to assume that she was doing it out of obedience? Not necessarily, of course. As I said, I would recommend that we not judge. However, if we insist on being judgmental about it, I think we could apply the standard of Galatians 5: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." I didn’t know Mother Theresa, but if she exhibited these qualities, along with performing the work she did, I would be very hesitant to say she did not have true faith.
This brings me to another point about Christian faith. The goal of faith is not nice feelings or pleasurable experiences, it is holiness. Jesus is much less concerned with how you feel than with whether or not you are righteous. The heroes of Hebrews 11 had some of the worst experiences recorded in the Bible ("sawed in two," etc.) and I don’t doubt that they felt bad about it much of the time. But they persevered in obedience and were made holy. That was the point.
As C.S. Lewis explained in The Screwtape Letters, the devil’s "cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."