Agnes Bojaxhiu, who died in 1997, was one of the most influential persons of her time. She was so passionate about her beliefs that her life became an articulate expression of her faith. She loved life, and so, hated abortion; thus even when called to speak to a predominantly American audience, she strongly criticized the policy. When asked to comment on her remarks, President Bill Clinton only noted, “Who can argue with a life so well lived?”
Yet, Agnes Bojaxhiu was privately racked by an emotional vacuum in her relationship with God. In some of her writings, published posthumously, she is quoted as saying: “The more I want [God], the less I am wanted.” Sometime later she writes again, “Such deep longing for God—and…repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal. [The saving of] souls holds no attraction. Heaven means nothing. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.”
Ordinarily, this would not be anything noteworthy, as many would privately disclose that we, too, have been troubled by doubt. But the world looks back at the legacy of Agnes Bojaxhiu, who was better known as Mother Teresa, and these letters, which are very private expressions of her personal struggles, are publicly analyzed. There are many questions that this honesty about doubt raises. Is it wrong to doubt? And most importantly, how do we deal with it?
We do see in the Bible many who wrestled with doubt. Job who was in the midst of suffering said, “If I called and he answered me, I could not believe that he was listening to my voice. For he bruises me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause” (Job 9:16-17). His bruises, which were many, constrained belief and encouraged doubt.
Then there is Jeremiah who cried out to God in the face of persecution. “O LORD, you have deceived me and I was deceived; you have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7). Though this was not a cry of outright unbelief, it was a struggle with a God who seems to be silent in the face of unjust suffering.
Then there is Thomas, whose name brings to mind the very word doubt. When the disciples recounted to him their encounter with the risen Lord, he refused to blindly believe their words. “Unless I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
How do we handle doubt? Firstly, we should be honest about our doubt. In the Gospel of Mark there is an account of a father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus. He implored him to cast out the demon. Jesus agreed, saying that all things were possible to those who believed. The father of the boy then confessed, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). While there is no mechanical method or technique to rid ourselves of doubt, we can approach God with honesty, confessing our doubt and our need for His help.
Secondly, God does not want us to live by simply depending upon our feelings. While feelings are important, they do not tell us what is real. They supplement the other facets of how God has made us as humans. Thus, the oft-quoted verse comes alive with meaning in this context: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). We need to love God with not just our emotions, but also with all our bodily faculties, our wills, and our mind. As we observe God’s world and reflect on it, there are impressions of the divine formed in the eyes of our heart, which direct us toward the true God. Thus our minds, our emotions, our wills, and all our faculties are complementary components in our relationship, by faith, in Christ.
And finally, while we are often hard on Thomas, he is to be commended because he doubted so that he could believe. It was not a doubt that was destructive, but a doubt that led to a faith that would not fail him. A blind faith may not have held him finally in the face of martyrdom. Far from a troubling secret that Christians must hide with shame, our doubts must always lead us to investigate, and then to respond like Thomas to the evidence provided by the risen Jesus—with surrender: “My Lord and my God.”
Your friend in faith,