A Crisis of Faith
In a world with few moral champions, Mother Teresa stands as one of the most well regarded religious leader in history. She spent most of her adult life caring for children in the slums of India. It turns out, the missionary who brought light to those in deepest darkness was herself in darkness.
The world recently learned of Mother Teresa’s struggle with doubt when her personal letters were made public in a book. She asked that all her writings and correspondence be destroyed, but the guardians of her earthly estate decided her notes should be preserved for the sake of posterity.
In one of her letters, she wrote an undated address to Jesus, “Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.”
She wrote the Rev. Michael van der Peet in September 1979, saying, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”
Mother Teresa has been beatified but not yet canonized. One reporter mockingly quipped that she should be made the patron saint of doubters.
There is nothing special about Mother Teresa having a struggle with faith. Many great church leaders have had to deal with moments when they questioned their own faith.
What Is a Crisis of Faith?
“Crisis of faith” is a term commonly applied to periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs or life decisions. This doubt can be triggered by a single event, or it can build up as a general sense of dissatisfaction.
Some people think that any type of uncertainty is a sign of a crisis of faith. I would say the opposite is generally true. Someone who boldly declares that he or she has never had doubts is likely a person who was never a true believer.
True faith is about denying one’s self and struggling to reject the sin nature. It is also about feeling like a stranger in a strange land. A person who has perfect peace with the world has never actually separated from it.
A crisis of faith takes place when you reach a dead end, then realize you simply have no faith in your faith.
My 20 years of experience in running Rapture Ready has brought me into contact with thousands of Christians. I have learned that you can never be totally sure if someone is a genuine believer.
People know how to act like a Christian. They put on a game face, saying what a Christian should say, yet they lack what it means to be whole in the faith.
Mother Teresa admitted that there was a feigned effort in the to imagine she presented to the world. “The smile,” she wrote, “is a mask or a cloak that covers everything. I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God, a tender personal love. If you were there you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.’”
I’ve seen some examples that go far beyond Mother Teresa’s lack of confidence. Some people remove their mask and reject Christianity altogether.
Not too long ago, I talked with someone who operates a site similar to Rapture Ready. During the phone conversation, I was surprised to hear this person openly admit not really being a believer in Christ. I was equally surprised by the endless stream of profanity coming from this person’s mouth.
I have long admired this individual’s articles. The website this person maintains offers Christians some sound scriptural advice, but there is this glaring contradiction.
The only sense I could make of the conflict was that this person’s interest had more to do with the satisfaction of running an organization than the desire to serve the Lord. As a result, someone is telling people how to live a Christian life, but that person is following a separate path.
On the Rapture Ready message board, we occasionally have people lose their mask. I remember one woman who wanted to open a thread on wine tasting. When we decided it wasn’t a good idea, she had an absolute fit.
Some of her messages were so profane, I wondered if she had switched to the hard stuff and was doing more than just tasting it. Beforehand she had been very sweet to me, but when we butted heads, I could tell she was straining to think of the most vile, hateful things she could throw in the direction of myself and the other moderators.
I understand that conflict and trials do cause people to say things they might later regret. They should never bring us to the point where we renounce our faith.
A Crisis Doesn’t Require a Crisis of Faith
Becoming a Christian does not mean everything will suddenly become a bed of roses. No matter how well isolated someone might be from the world, there are going to be times of difficulty.
For some people, a trial is the point when they doubt or abandon their faith. People assume that God has violated some unwritten contract with them, so they go their own way.
Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, is a very dramatic example of this type of outcome. At one point, Ted intended to be a missionary. He said that he has been “born again” seven times. Ted’s sister, Mary Jane, came down with lupus and suffered terribly before dying. Ted had prayed for an hour each day–“for naught”. Ever since, Ted has been mad at God and considers himself an “atheist” or an “agnostic” today.
The loss of a loved one is a very traumatic event that can cause anyone to question how a caring deity can impose such pain and suffering on loved ones. It’s often difficult to differentiate “free will” from the “will of God,” and it’s even harder to realize that certain things are simply beyond our control.
There is no broken promise on God’s part. When Adam and Eve fell, the Lord spelled out the consequences of their error right on the spot, and He has been true to His word. Because we live under a curse, hardship should not be a factor in our faith.
Consider the poor folks who lived during the Middle Ages. Their entire lives were spent going from one miserable experience to another. The vast majority of the population existed in abject poverty conditions, and there was a constant threat of war and disease. Someone dying at age 50 would be considered as having lived to a ripe old age.
Despite these miserable conditions, people in the Middle Ages were very solid in their faith. They labored six days a week from sun up to sun down, and packed churches on Sunday.
A cynic might say they were clinging to a false hope, but I don’t think that is the root cause. I think the reason adversity causes people to be more devoted in their faith is because it forces people to realize that the Kingdom of God is more valuable than this world. Today, with all the carnal enticements around us, we put more value in this life. Adversity causes people to search their souls, and this is what produces faith.
We should never forget that this world is shadow of the glory that waits in the life to come. Any problem we have along the journey to our true home should not be viewed as something that can damage our faith.
A Crisis of Faith Can Be a Good Thing
There are billions of people on this planet whom I wish would have a crisis of faith. The reason is because the faith they currently have is based on falsehood.
One sad situation is when someone is in bondage to a false religion, then realizes something is not right yet continues to be part of this group because he or she lacks the willpower to break free.
I would rather have someone reject a faith they have no trust in than go through life living a hopeless lie. It is foolish for someone to remain linked to a school of thought just because of some cultural or emotional attachment to it.
A lie doesn’t get better with age. It normally degrades as the light of the truth reveals its true nature.
The followers of Jim Jones could have used a crisis of faith. There was plenty of evidence that he was not the divine savior he claimed to be. People blindly put their trust in him–all the way to the point that they lost their lives.
I think the reason Mother Teresa felt so empty was her reliance on a religious experience that was based on works. It’s sad that her lack of fulfillment didn’t cause her to seek the true meaning of faith.
The Holy Ghost Connection
Most people believe faith is a matter of someone just being presented with the gospel message and deciding to become a believer. The Bible says the Holy Spirit is involved in the process. Without Him, no one would choose to become a believer in Christ.
James said that anyone who lacks understanding should ask God for wisdom. People who are in a state of confusion are often trying solve their doubts through their own ability.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” James 1:5.
I’ve been serving the Lord for over 25 years and I can tell how God has guided me. I never had any special revelations of truth, but I’ve never had any crisis with my faith.
I have noticed the sustaining power in God when I reflect back on how many of my Christian friends from my youth have lost their vigor, while I have found strength to keep pressing forward each day.
If you place your trust in God, I am certain that He will also guide you through any obstacle that may come your way.
“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might. You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples. Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy” (Psalm 65:5-8).