A loved one’s betrayal, a grim diagnosis, or the worst possible phone call can be the push that plunges you spiraling into a crisis of faith. Perhaps the chronic conditions of regret, depression, anger, suffering and disappointment have slowly become resistant to clichés offered as sermons and ritual masquerading as worship. Perhaps you are now where I have been, facing your own life and death struggle for everything you believed. No one talks about this in polite Christian society, but it is more common than you think. And if you are in this struggle, you are not alone. It has happened to the best.
John the Baptist was the first to publicly recognize Jesus as the Messiah: “Behold the Lamb of God.” He was the promised messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord; his miraculous conception was heralded by an angel. He was chosen to baptize Jesus and bore witness when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus proclaiming Him as the Son of God. Yet, John the Baptist, who Jesus pronounced as the greatest of all, wrestled in the dark with his doubts. Alone in prison facing death he wondered what it all meant. In his zeal, could he have been duped? Had he been punked in some cosmic joke? He sent a last desperate message to Jesus, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).
The 16th Century Carmelite Priest, St. John of the Cross, describes this loss of faith as the “dark night of soul.” It is as if the believer is plunged into a pit of doubt and despair while God is seemingly silent. For some it is the shadow of death and hell itself. Both King David and Job echoed this hopelessness: “ . . . Why are thou so far from helping me and from the words of my roaring?” (Psalms 22:1b). “But I don’t have the strength to endure. I have nothing to live for” (Job 6:11 New Living Translation).
Mother Teresa was one of those rare individuals who seemed to be born with an intense longing to love and serve Christ. Revealed in the book of her letters, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light edited by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, her postulator (the official responsible for gathering the evidence for her sanctification), she writes, “From the age of 5½ years—when first I received Him—the love for souls has been within” (p. 15). The world marveled at her unselfish devotion to Christ, heaping on her accolades including the Nobel Peace Prize. My father recalls hearing her speak at the 1994 National Day of Prayer breakfast to then-President Clinton. He was astounded when this tiny woman addressed the most powerful man on the planet about the rights of the unborn. And yet, Mother Teresa lived under a cloak of utter despair doubting even God’s existence. She wrote, “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss—of God not wanting me” (p. 192). She continued, “I have no faith—I don’t believe—Jesus, don’t let my soul be deceived –nor let me deceive anyone” (p. 193).
John the Baptist, the psalmist David, Job, St. John of the Cross and Mother Teresa all experienced what James describes as “the trying of your faith” (James 1:3), and, yes, God allows it. For those who are in the throes, I will not take the place of Job’s friends, and offer religious platitudes. We all have to travel our own road. I can only share what I have learned on mine.
I will blog next on Walking with God in the Shadows.