We Live By Faith, Not Certainty

I am surprised at the flurry of discussion and concern about this aspect of Mother Teresa’s inner life, because spiritual … Continued

I am surprised at the flurry of discussion and concern about this aspect of Mother Teresa’s inner life, because spiritual teachers have long taught about the dark night of the soul. St John of the Cross spoke eloquently about this phenomenon, that in many ways it was a common occurrence, God seeking to wean us away from the consolations of God so that we would turn our hearts towards the God of consolations. Even Jesus in a way experienced this desolation when he cried out on the Cross, ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?’

Mother Teresa wonderfully was no plaster cast saint. She has helped to affirm many who are passing through this period of desolation and dryness when God seems so remote. St Theresa of Avila after one such bout cried out in frustration to God, ‘No wonder your friends are so few given how you treat them!’ My regard for Mother Teresa has been enhanced.

Doubt can be an integral part of faith, when the evidence is never so overwhelming, so incontrovertible. St Thomas is our patron Saint for doubters. We live by faith not by sight and frequently the evidence does not make the leap of faith redundant.

God bless you.

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  • J. Balough

    Thank you sir,All that Mother Teresa’s doubts prove is that she is human. They in no way diminish the validity of her faith or the goodness of her work.

  • Josh

    I admire Mother Teresa greatly for her actions in setting up an organization to help poor people. But if even she finds it difficult to generate a faithful attitude, and people like Bishop Tutu recognize that it it does not exist naturally or come “from the consolations of God” but is an attitude consciously adopted, then the enterprise fails on epistomological grounds: there is no external evidence for God’s existence (as Tutu and many others come close to acknowledging) and little consistent personal experience, even among the saints, to justify the conclusion that faith is warranted. All that remains are large religious institutions that ask us to believe and become adherents. These large religious institutions have access to the minds of many of our children from an early age and influence them to believe without ever having to demostrate why.

  • Venkat

    Dear J. Balough, the question is not whether Mother Theresa did great works or not. We all know and sckowledge that she did. The question stems from the burden of doubt that she carried: did she spend her life thinking hers was a hopeless persuit? We need organized religions out of our lives first before we transistion to atheism.

  • Philip Orticke

    I agree with Archbishop Tutu. Thank you sir for clarity and eloquence in delineation. Sister Teresa’s request for nondisclosure should have been honored. Yet in raising this perhaps more will hear and heed the call to be Holy as the work or saving grace continues to abound.

  • Seattle

    Mother Theresa should be honored for her works, not her faith. Does Archbiship Tutu believe that one needs faith in order to do good works? What is made of atheists who do great works?

  • John Elkins

    I also am in complete agreement with Archbishop Tutu. Ecclesiastes, after all, “The Preacher”, says in its refrain, “All is vanity…” We are reminded of our humanity and mortality by the human doubt experienced by any one of us, whether labeled, from our life of works, “saint” or “sinner”.Doubt is the hallmark of consciousness, which in turn is the hallmark of humanity. Without doubt, there would be no need for faith or reason to overcome it. We would be instead robotic machines; not human beings. We would not need saints to inspire us to do better. We would be perfect unto ourselves.To presuppose that “saint” means earthly perfection in all respects is to presuppose that there has never been any human being truly a saint. It is to presuppose that saints are inevitably mystical creatures during their time on earth, without any of the normal lesser foibles accompanying humanity. Such a belief will only lead to disappointment in finding and recognizing the clay feet of any mortal during his or her lifetime, indeed inspiring the search for it on the belief that all human beings have imperfection. Such an approach is thus truistic in its premises. It negates that any human being may be called a saint, and thus presupposes that there are no saints, only sinners.Such an approach may lead then to a form of cynicism, negating good works, despising charity toward our fellow human beings on the premise that to supply truly good works, one must be perfect, and if not perfect, then a “hypocrite” supplanting what should be left to the only perfect being, God, to accomplish. And in further consequence of that view, life itself becomes a kind of roulette wheel of good fortune or bad fortune, and those suffering bad fortune must be left to their own bad fortune, without aid or comfort from their fellow human beings.The consequence ultimately to humanity for that view, however, would over time be a very profoundly dark one–hopeless. In a world increasingly hurrying apace, increasingly insensitive to suffering, as we are informed increasingly of suffering within the world, we need also increasingly to countervail that inevitable numbing of sensitivities by instilling public awareness of figures who inspire hope and courage and charity toward others without the expectation of financial gain. Such figures in the past century as Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Pope John-Paul II, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa inspire us, as frail individuals running apace to maintain our daily schedules, to pause and appreciate the poetry of life and the great and good feeling achieved mutually, one to another in our own individual lives, in helping a fellow struggler, if only momentarily, in this peculiar enterprise in which we find ourselves–life and mortality. As John F. Kennedy said, “We are all mortal…”Mother Teresa was no exception to this supposition; but her consistently dedicated public works on earth were so exceptional as to be beyond mere mortality, not only directly, but in the inspiration to others. That, it seems to me, is a definition of a saint.

  • Pablo

    “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:20-21).

  • Krikor

    Yes, she should be honored for her works. But one should not disregard the faith that drove her works. She did those good works because of her faith. So she should just as much be honored for the faith that inspired her works

  • Paula Wilson

    I found this interesting. How do people keep faith if they don’t understand the source of their conflict? It seems that not understanding only leads to more dispair because one cannot see a way forward to end the conflict that is causing them such personal, moral and ethical concern.Dr. Paula Wilson

  • Campbellite

    “God seeking to wean us away from the consolations of God so that we would turn our hearts towards the God of consolations.”Thank you, Archbishop. With one sentence you solved my own deepest confusion.

  • sebocd

    Archbishop Tutu gives us an excellent apology for the phenomenon of the dark night of faith. A Carmelite could not do a better job. No doubt Mother Teresa was familar with the works of these Spanish saints and the more contemporary Thérèse of Lisieux.

  • Russell D.

    Pablo:Exactly what was the point of your post?And where were you for the earlier questions?You would have loved the banter we all had going.

  • Theresa E Ellis

    I think it is great that someone who was so concern about the well being of people who live in poverty would commit their life to making others better. We live in a time where everything revolves around power and money. Life is no longer considered at is best when we have the minimal neccesities provided. Mother Theresa know matter what she wrestled with within her inner being did something about the convictions in her spirit. There are many people who talk talk talk,I am sure these people mean will but to actually do something dwindles the number of persons who give up comfort, for suffering. Mother Theresa get my vote for sainthood. There are not a lot of people who would even come close to attempting to do some of the things she have done.

  • Wayne Andrews

    Saw this in a movie somewhere and I think the statment about sums it up – without doubt, faith would be unnecessary.

  • Wayne Andrews

    Saw this in a movie somewhere and I think the statment about sums it up – without doubt, faith would be unnecessary.

  • DONOVAN STEWART

    Mr. Tutu comments were well put. We do indeed live by faith. If Jeasus at a point in his life, cried out to God, “my God My God.. why have thou forsake me”.. who are we not to feel doubtful at times.Well said and I agree.

  • DONOVAN STEWART

    Mr. Tutu comments were well put. We do indeed live by faith. If Jeasus at a point in his life, cried out to God, “my God My God.. why have thou forsake me”.. who are we not to feel doubtful at times.Well said and I agree.Donovan Stewart

  • DONOVAN STEWART

    Mr. Tutu comments were well put. We do indeed live by faith. If Jeasus at a point in his life, cried out to God, “my God My God.. why have thou forsake me”.. who are we not to feel doubtful at times.Well said and I agree.Donovan Stewart

  • mizbinkley

    Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” was moment of doubt that showed that Jesus was both fully divine AND fully human.The key word being moment. Even momentS.Mother Teresa’s “moment” lasted the last few decades of her life. And her doubt was not of the variety of “why has God forsaken me at this my hour of need,” which can indicate enduring belief in God but feeling abandoned at the moment.Mother Teresa did not feel God’s presence for decades. Obviously, I don’t mean physical presence, and this doesn’t mean God has to “prove” His existence through miracles. But, although they may waiver, people of faith find God as real to them as the person standing next to them.Who or what is God if you cannot have a relationship with Him? Merely a creator? An absentee landlord?I think these are important questions that don’t negate Mother Teresa’s good works.

  • More doubt

    It still seems strange that Mother Teresa harbored these doubts and yet was sure that, if there was a God, it was the specifically Catholic church version, and that God does not approve of abortion. How did she know that was God’s viewpoint rather than her own, if she did not feel the presence of God? There are versions of Christianity that do not regard abortion as immoral in and of itself.She seems a strange combination of doubt and certainty, aside from her good works.

  • Anonymous

    Amen

  • Henry James

    Faith in An Evil God?Yes, we realize that usually faith and doubt co-exist in our human hearts.”I have faith that I will win the Nobel Prize. I doubt that I will win the Nobel Prize” is the most human of vacillations.Of course, this fact regarding faith in God says *nothing* about whether God actually exists, or, if She does, which of the many choices She really is (Krishna, Allah, etc).What Theresa realized at many levels is that, as a Catholic, she had faith in an omnipotent, omniscient God who allowed the vast unwarranted human suffering that she encountered on the streets of Calcutta. Did her faith in a God of Evil waver? Wouldn’t all of ours?Many can’t reconcile the hypothesis that such a God exists with the reality they see in the Calcutta’s of that God’s world. And if God allows such Evil when She can prevent it, isn’t She evil too?

  • Anonymous

    Jacob Stop it.

  • J. Balough

    Venkant — I think understand what you are saying, but I don’t think having doubts automatically translates into hopelessness. Or perhaps I missed your point entirely. Food for thought :p”Reality: a/k/a your & OUR TRANSFINITY; Only the Eclati-on(s) of Holy Cosmic Feeler(s) Faith” tends to make myself and others not want to read what you are writing, and hence tends towards your message being ignored.

  • Eclat i

    Jacob,As your god I command you to stop writing ridiculous rhetoric. No one reads them because they do not make sense. Ya Ya.

  • Judy Allen

    Dear Bishop Tutu,

  • Silence Dogood

    As Abraham was leading his son Isaac (who was carrying the wood for his own sacrifice) from the ass and towards Mt. Moriah; Abraham was being obedient to an instruction God had given him.Abraham, deemed righteous because of his faith, stated to his servants, “Stay here with the ass, I and the lad will return.”This kind of faith in God (soon to be confirmed by the placement of a ram, caught in a thicket/a substitute) indicated no doubt or fear and demonstrates for all of us faith that does not come from sight.Abraham did not question God.

  • Silence Dogood

    As Abraham was leading his son Isaac (who was carrying the wood for his own sacrifice) from the ass and towards Mt. Moriah; Abraham was being obedient to an instruction God had given him.Abraham, deemed righteous because of his faith, stated to his servants, “Stay here with the ass, I and the lad will return.”This kind of faith in God (soon to be confirmed by the placement of a ram, caught in a thicket/a substitute) indicated no doubt or fear and demonstrates for all of us faith that does not come from sight.Abraham did not question God.

  • rumicat

    My feeling is that accepting doubt, rather than fearing it, is a part of having a mature faith. God gave us eyes to see with, ears to hear with, legs to walk with, and an intellect that questions, analyzes, and challenges. Ignoring these gifts is no less hurtful to God than it would be to a parent if their child refused to open a lovingly given birthday gift. Just as we see, hear, and walk, we must question, analyze, and doubt. In the end we chose to believe, not because we know, but because it is better to believe that the glass is half full, and because wearing the lens of faith allows us to better see all of the beauty that is possible in the world.

  • Moshe

    I think what is important is being missed here is a very simple concept. We live by faith, because the truth is that life is uncertain. I do not believe that we know very much at all except that we are all going to die; sinners and saints. If we acknowledge it or not, we all live by faith; either faith in ourselves, or faith in something greater.For certainty is state of knowledge, and we tend to act as if; we make assumption daily, we allow ourselves unearned liberties, and we take the most precious gifts for granted. The truth is that we don’t know if we will awaken when we lay our heads down to rest. Of life’s certainties, we are all promised a return to dust. We like to believe in the feelings of certainty (security) which generally are just that, feelings. We don’t like to think about what is actually certain, however our belief or or avoidance of belief in the actuality of creation does not change the truth of it.When we think we know, we aren’t thinking. Wisdom is the faith in the truth; the innate uncertainty (doubt) of our knowledge and daily continued existence. We discern our sense of knowledge by testing the underlying doubt of our beliefs.We acquire wisdom when we understand that of our own human devices, we can only infer truth by the removal, or absence of doubt. We can’t pin truth down, we can only corner it. Therefore it is wise to understand to claim certainty of truth, to claim knowledge, is claim to be the Author of truth, a fool, or worse a liar. One may only claim knowledge when a belief is known with surety to be truth. Ask any honest scientist, and they will tell you that what we believe we “know” at best we really only have a satisfactory sense of certitude. This certitude being what has past available measures of doubt. We usually determine our sense of certainty (our rightness) emotionally, however intellectually, we determine our sense of certainty by testing the certainty of the uncertain. To put it another way, we test our beliefs by stripping away our assumptions that our beliefs are truth, and by testing the falsity of our beliefs. The important thing to take away from this is that if we as mere humans are certain (meaning that we “know” truth) then we are hopeless, for certainty leaves no room for hope. Let us not be arrogant and so certain; let us be thankful, let us be wise. Let us test our fears and doubts, let us test our sense of self-assurance, and surety; so we may not despair. Let us not be hopeless, let’s be humble.This is why we live life to the fullest by faith, in the hope of a dawn, so we may rejoice in the breath of a new day. Let us trust on faith in the words of knowledge, wisdom, and promise of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, whose words and actions have never given us reason to doubt Him.

  • Moshe

    I think what is important is being missed here is a very simple concept. We live by faith, because the truth is that life is uncertain. I do not believe that we know very much at all except that we are all going to die; sinners and saints. If we acknowledge it or not, we all live by faith; either faith in ourselves, or faith in something greater.For certainty is state of knowledge, and we tend to act as if; we make assumption daily, we allow ourselves unearned liberties, and we take the most precious gifts for granted. The truth is that we don’t know if we will awaken when we lay our heads down to rest. Of life’s certainties, we are all promised a return to dust. We like to believe in the feelings of certainty (security) which generally are just that, feelings. We don’t like to think about what is actually certain, however our belief or or avoidance of belief in the actuality of creation does not change the truth of it.When we think we know, we aren’t thinking. Wisdom is the faith in the truth; the innate uncertainty (doubt) of our knowledge and daily continued existence. We discern our sense of knowledge by testing the underlying doubt of our beliefs.We acquire wisdom when we understand that of our own human devices, we can only infer truth by the removal, or absence of doubt. We can’t pin truth down, we can only corner it. Therefore it is wise to understand to claim certainty of truth, to claim knowledge, is claim to be the Author of truth, a fool, or worse a liar. One may only claim knowledge when a belief is known with surety to be truth. Ask any honest scientist, and they will tell you that what we believe we “know” at best we really only have a satisfactory sense of certitude. This certitude being what has past available measures of doubt. We usually determine our sense of certainty (our rightness) emotionally, however intellectually, we determine our sense of certainty by testing the certainty of the uncertain. To put it another way, we test our beliefs by stripping away our assumptions that our beliefs are truth, and by testing the falsity of our beliefs. The important thing to take away from this is that if we as mere humans are certain (meaning that we “know” truth) then we are hopeless, for certainty leaves no room for hope. Let us not be arrogant and so certain; let us be thankful, let us be wise. Let us test our fears and doubts, let us test our sense of self-assurance, and surety; so we may not despair. Let us not be hopeless, let’s be humble.This is why we live life to the fullest by faith, in the hope of a dawn, so we may rejoice in the breath of a new day. Let us trust on faith in the words of knowledge, wisdom, and promise of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, whose words and actions have never given us reason to doubt Him.

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