A Saint's Doubt
Two years ago the private letters and journals of
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta were released. The publication of her
innermost thoughts surprised many. Most expected the confident
reflection of a faithful Catholic who was secure in her beliefs.
Instead the reader found the agonizing reflections of a person
struggling through terrifying periods of darkness. Blessed Teresa's
journey of doubt began a few years after she founded the Missionaries
of Charity. She wrote to the archbishop of Calcutta in 1959,
I find no words to express the depths of the darkness
Another entry reveals her that her struggling was not
just in asking why God seems so distant to the plight of the poor but
in the very existence of God.
In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss of God
not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not existing.”
These are rather incredible statements not only from someone who
worked so diligently in Christ's service but who had some rather
unique and divine encounters. One such mystical experience occurred
after she had been teaching in Calcutta for 17 years. She had worked
herself sick and her superiors ordered her to take a retreat at the
foot of the Himalayans. On the train ride from Calcutta Jesus spoke
to her and called her to abandon her teaching and serve directly the
people who were living on the street—the poorest of the poor.
You are, I know the most incapable person—weak and
sinful but just because you are that—I want to use you for my
glory. Will thou refuse?
With this mystical encounter Blessed Teresa began her
Missionaries of Charity order. It was a very bold, even audacious
crusade. She did not have any funding nor permission to raise the
money and she was proposing to care for the poor through
individualized but very costly service to the most desperate of the
poor. Within a year she had gained permission but almost immediately
the light of that earlier vision was extinguished and the darkness
enveloped her. For the next
Struggles of faith are not unusual in the spiritual life. Most
believers experience a time when God seems very distant or virtually
absent from their life. A Spanish mystic called it, the Dark Night of
the Soul, when a believer feels completely abandoned by God and even
begins to doubt the existence of the Eternal. However these periods
are usually short in duration. She would live in that darkness for
the next 58 years except for a brief five week period.
Blessed Teresa's struggle with doubt make her life's
accomplishments even more impressive. She served God from a true
sense of calling. She was not looking ahead to her final reward. She
was walking the streets in the morning so that she could enjoy
moments of divine ecstasy in the evening. God had called her to serve
and she could do no less even if she struggled to know if that God
really did exist.
Doubt and faith are more often present than most people
are willing to admit. Faith cannot exist without some element of
uncertainty or doubt. Red Wings fans have faith that their team can
win the Stanley Cup but where would the excitement be if you already
knew the conclusion. The possibility of defeat and the sprinkling of
doubt gives flavor to each goal and every victory. However, changes
in the situation and circumstances may start to erode even the truest
believer's faith. In the scorching winds of persecution, suffering
and continuous defeat, confident faith may succumb and doubt may
grow. Having lost sight of the goals, the vision of faith is
overwhelmed by the darkness causing us to question our faith and
divine presence. The passage before us offers some helpful advice on
how to keep from letting the doubt overwhelm our faith. However it
does have a slightly different twist.
The Doubt of Distortion
The author of 1 John was writing to people who were in
danger of losing their faith through the doubt of distortion. They
had been listening to a cacophony of teachers who were saying
different things about Jesus. Some were saying that Christ-Spirit
came on Jesus at his baptism but departed from him before his death.
This group could not believe that the Christ could actually suffer.
Another group may have believed that Jesus was like the Olympian gods
who had in place of blood a watery substance. This group would have
overemphasized his divinity at the expense of his humanity.
To refute these misguided teachers, the author uses an
example from everyday life. He tells his listeners, “we accept
man's testimony.” This saying refers to the law from the OT. In the
book of Deuteronomy we read:
"On the testimony of two or
three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be
put to death on the testimony of only one witness."
(Deuteronomy 17:6, NIV)
" One witness is not enough to
convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have
committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or
(Deuteronomy 19:15, NIV)
The testimony of one person could not convict a person
of a crime. The ancient Hebrews carried this practice into their
business life. Ancient documents reveal the signatures of several
witnesses to authenticate a sale. The author is essentially saying if
you are willing to believe “man's testimony” that is
authenticated with just two witnesses, then you should be willing to
believe God's testimony because he has authenticated his testimony
with three witness.
is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not
come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit
who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7
For there are three that testify: 8
Spirit, the water and the blood; and
the three are in agreement.
1 john 5:6-8
—the Spirit, the water and the blood.
These three witnesses are shorthand for the author. He did not
need to elaborate on them in this letter because he had explained
them so thoroughly in his gospel account. The Spirit refers back to
all the events surrounding Jesus' baptism. The author included John
the Baptist's testimony previously.
"Then John gave this testimony:
“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on
him. I would not have known him, except that
the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on
whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize
with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I
testify that this is the Son of God.”"
John 1:32-34, NIV
The story would have been well known to these Christians. The
account of the Spirit coming down on Jesus would have been delivered
by more than one witness. It would not hold up in a court of law
because it would be considered hearsay evidence but the author of 1
John still considered it valid. All that he needed was for John
himself to retell the story. The testimony of John the Baptist was
proof positive. Jesus experienced it and John saw the dove and its
descent. It was so moving that both never forgot that moment. It
changed Jesus' life forever. But never are we told that the Spirit
ever departed from Jesus. Even while hanging on the Cross the Spirit
of God was upon him. John never mentions that the Christ-Spirit ever
departed from Jesus after his baptism.
The importance of Jesus' baptism is emphasized again in
the second coded message. Not only does the Spirit bring witness but
so does the water. It was through the water that Jesus was revealed
as the son of God. Something happened to Jesus the moment he emerged
from the water. His baptism was not like all the others. It was more
than the pouring of water over his head. It was more than the
refreshing splash. That water was really very, very wet and very
The third element of confirmation that the author of 1
John uses is the blood. If anyone questioned if Jesus was a man all
that they would have to do was re-read the story of his crucifixion.
The droplets upon his head that he sweat were not dyed liquid. The
blood that flowed from his wound was not imaginative. Jesus was just
as human as any man or woman. He shed his blood so that we might have
The author of John uses familiar images to remind the
church to hold onto their faith and do not let the distorted messages
of false teachers create doubt in their minds. That is good advice.
There is nothing that can convince a person to believe in the
Christian message. In part we will always have some doubt. As I
previously said without the doubt there can be no faith. That is why
the font, the table and the cross should always be prominent in
church. They are symbols of what God has done for us. They remind us
to believe in the unseen. They cannot prove the existence of God.
They cannot prove that God answers prayers. They cannot prove Jesus
rose from the tomb. However, they serve as symbols to the reality of
I am really not sure why Blessed Teresa could not rest
in the certainty of God's existence. Someone who analyzed her letters
thinks that God may have had to humble her because she was so
talented. That is a possibility.
I use her story to remind us that none of us are exempt
from doubt. None of us are exempt from believing a distorted message.
But God has given us three witnesses. The Spirit that came upon Jesus
at his baptism and upon us when we first believed in the Christian
message. The water that was poured upon him at our baptism, and the
blood that was shed on Calvary.