Today is the seventeenth anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death. Though she was an Albanian by birth, this diminutive woman lived most of her life in India serving the poorest of the poor. She began her life as a Catholic missionary at age 18 and devoted the rest of her 87 years to mission work, living among those for whom she cared.
Even though I’m a non-Catholic, I’ve respected the dedication of Mother Teresa whose sacrificial service was significant. I found her especially endearing when (in 1994 at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC) she spoke before a crowd of more than 3,000 attendees and boldly advocated on behalf of the unborn.
One quote must suffice here because the speech is lengthy, but in part, she told her audience: “… the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion … if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”
Notwithstanding her status as a Nobel Prize winner (1979), she was widely criticized for her decision to speak so fearlessly about her deeply-held convictions. Among the dignitaries on the dais as she spoke were President and Mrs. Clinton as well as Vice President Al Gore.
In last Thursday’s post, Ever Been to Nando’s, I talked about the refreshingly honest portrayal of Rev. Adam Smallbone’s crisis of faith. A Google search for the term crisis of faith results in a predictably large number of hits, including articles that explore Mother Teresa and John F. Kennedy, both of whom experienced this phenomenon.
In its brief article, Wikipedia explains:Crisis of faith is a term commonly applied, especially in Western culture, to periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs or life decisions.
The most striking phrase in this description − at least for me − is “especially in Western culture.” Really? As with the concept of happiness probed in my earlier series of posts, is the concept of a crisis of faith just another cultural creation?
In matters of faith, it seems to me that whatever the culture, doubt inevitably arises. Whether Westerner or not, the one who hasn’t experienced doubt hasn’t actually comprehended faith. A quote attributed to Salman Rushdie says: “… faith without doubt is addiction.”
Indeed. The beautiful woman doubts her beauty. The truly wise man must occasionally doubt the trustworthiness of some aspect of his knowledge. The athlete confronts doubt (am I good enough to win today?) before every competition. Why should it be any different for a believer to question or doubt the foundations for his/her faith?
Granted, a crisis of faith distinguishes a deeper, more serious affliction from simple, garden-variety doubt. David, King of Israel, wrote many of the Psalms. Some of his Psalms seek help or comfort in times of trouble but others reflect David’s shuddering despair in the midst of serious crisis.
To me, the first half of Psalm 28 reads as a straightforward plea to God for help, and the second half praises the Lord for heeding David’s entreaty. Still, verse one (with a universality that could make it anyone’s prayer) contains a sense of desperation in it: God, don’t be deaf to me! Don’t be silent!
As I was writing last week about Adam Smallbone’s struggles, I was reminded of the following sonnet written long ago. The poem speaks of a crisis of faith moment in my life, a time when it seemed God was deaf.
For one whose faith is more than addiction, Isaiah 48:10 (ESV) describes being tried/tested “in the furnace of affliction.” On the other side of that affliction, David the psalmist reminds us in the final verses of Psalm 28 (verses 7a, 8b, NIV) that God is “my strength,” “my shield,” “a fortress of salvation for His anointed one.”
Such promises don’t avert a crisis of faith, but they do provide welcome comfort as we stumble through the furnace.