Mother Teresa’s “Dark Night of the Soul”

I know far too little about Mother Teresa. I have no pronouncements to make about the state of her soul. I cannot see around or through or under or beyond her crises of faith. God surely can.

I do know that true, faithful saints can experience long dark nights. Though the cry “Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22) was ultimately owned and redeemed by Jesus Christ, it was a true Davidic expression.

But in all the discussion and debate I have read over the last few days I have two other concerns; both of which point, I believe, to our tendency towards self-righteousness or gracelessness. The first concern has already been discussed many times: there is the loud cry of many that Mother Teresa must have been a true Christian, because look at all the amazing self-sacrificing work she did.

Forget about how this relates to any particular individual, including Mother Teresa. Simply look with me at where that statement points. We are pointing at her work. Her labor. Her sacrifice. Her earnestness.

Her merit.

The Gospel points us to Christ’s work, Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s merit. There is a great difference.

Jesus told us to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good work and glorify your Father who is heaven”. So we do draw attention to our deeds (they see our good work). Well, then, how do they glorify our Father, and not us, for the good work? There must be words accompanying our workings, words full of the gospel, words full of how our work is a response to his work, how our faith is a response to his Promise, how our fruit is the fruit of the cross and the resurrection and the hope brought to birth and life in Jesus Christ. If, at the end of our lives people are amazed at our endless self-sacrifice and pouring out of ourselves for others, and this what they see and talk about… we will have failed the gospel.

The second concern is perhaps even more serious: there is a tendency in us — if we are honest — to rejoice in the weakness and failings of others. There are some that are quick to draw attention to this soul-struggle that is highlighted, and to say, “I told you so.” We spend our lives comparing and contrasting our standing with that of others. Pastors look at other pastors leading bigger churches and having a “more successful” ministry, and privately think “I’m actually better than he is, if only I had an opportunity to preach to thousands, they would know that. But I face evil opposition instead. My people don’t realize how blessed they are.” And with that mindset, we actually have inner rejoicing when that “more successful” pastor is caught in a scandal. “See, I knew I was better all along. Now maybe my people will appreciate me more.” Others must fall if we are to be raised. And our masks and robes must be carefully worn so that the status we have achieved is not defaced or lessened.

Our merit must be recognized.

I know all too well of what I speak.  It’s the idolatry that has run amok in my own life and soul, causing so much destruction; the idolatry that still visits far too often.

It is Pharisaism, pride, and self-righteousness.

Our people need to appreciate Jesus more. His merit. His grace. Not us, not me, not you…and not any other saint. And there is no joy in the sorrows of others. The fact that Mother Teresa struggled in her faith says nothing about the quality, for good or ill, of our own doctrine or the positioning of our ministry. Do those who encounter our ministry encounter the God of mighty works who defeats all our idols and draws all our love? This is the question for us.

Draw attention to the gospel, to the God who is with us in Jesus Christ. Draw out the redemption, the Rescue, that is achieved for souls in darkness when Christ calls from the cross, “Why are you so far from saving me?” and thus achieves for his people the sure hope that they are heard, they cannot be forsaken, they are transplanted into the kingdom of light.

Praise Jesus!

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4 Comments on “Mother Teresa’s “Dark Night of the Soul””

  1. Jared Says:

    Wow. What a fantastic post.

    I have often thought the same of the Mother Theresa perception also. I used this “news” in an illustration in my message last Sunday, and as an aside I referred to our cliched answer to “who’s going to heaven?” as Bill Graham and Mother Theresa, then saying that we answer that way based on their works, which is not a great way to talk about who “gets in” anyway, but I digressed.

    But what a great meditation you have here, a re-focus for us all.

  2. promiseskept Says:

    Jared, thanks for the comment. Your blog has been a great encouragement to me, and a challenge to my thinking, so I’m honored that you found this helpful.

    I see how easily my thinking gets messed up, how self-righteousness creeps in and crowds out the gospel. I see it, but not well enough. But the gospel is sweet, and permeating.

    Thanks again!


  3. Good post.

    However, I think there is another side to the “rejoicing” in the revelations that one of the most looked-up-to icons of Christianity had many “weaknesses and failings.” In a culture (and, alas, even a Christian Evangelical culture) that idolizes strength and success above all, that preaches so often that once you accept Jesus in, everything will be better, that faith naturally equals simplicity–is there not a wonder, a sort of breath of fresh air, that comes when we discover our potential idols, like us, are sinners, and all their righteousness but clinging rags?

    I do “spend my life comparing and contrasting our standing with that of others.” The way I do it, I know, is a sin–but it’s also one of the reasons I’m befuddled by the Scripture passages that talk about how we shall “know a tree by its fruit.” I know God has saved me, has given me this desire to love and serve him–but I feel doubt, and chaos, and the moral worthlessness of my so-often self-centered life. I feel these things and I wonder if I’m maybe Esau, crying to a sad but firm God “Father, please, is there any left for me.” If I’m the lukewarm that Jesus spits out of his mouth. When the sins, doubts, and confusions of those Christians I most look up to are revealed, it is a marvel–because strangely I do believe people like Mother Teresa or C. S. Lewis to be saved, and their lives are a reminder that despite the confidence and “faith” I see around me, it is still only the sinners who realize their need for the Divine Physician and whom the Man of Sorrows came to earth to save.


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