Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On The "Faith" of Mother Teresa: John Ortberg Strikes Out

Posted by Christine Pack

In a recent article for Christianity Today (10/17/11), John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, addressed the issue of "When God Seems Far Away" with an account of Mother Teresa's life. Ortberg talks about Mother Teresa having an on-fire faith for Jesus as a young woman...but then at some point, suddenly and inexplicably, the "fire" goes away. And not only goes away, but stays away. In her struggle to understand why her "God" had deserted her, Mother Teresa wrote a number of letters over a long period of time (50 years), letters which were published posthumously, and which, rightfully, raised questions about Mother Teresa's spiritual status when she died.

Ortberg writes that during this period of spiritual desolation, "a wise spiritual counselor told (Mother Teresa) three things she needed to hear." These three things were:
First, that there was no human remedy for this darkness. (So she could not control it.) 
Second, that "feeling" the presence of Jesus was not the only or even the primary evidence of his presence. (Jesus himself said that by their fruit—not their feelings—you shall know his true followers.) In fact, the very craving for God was a "sure sign" that God was present—though in a hidden way—in her life. 
Third, that the pain she was going through could be redemptive. That Jesus himself had to experience the agony of the Absence of God: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" His suffering redeemed us. Like him, Mother Teresa could suffer redemptively by clinging to God in the midst of darkness. (online source)
While this person who counseled Mother Teresa might have been considered wise by the world's standards, let's look at this counsel as compared to the Word of God:
(1) "(T)here was no human remedy for this darkness." 
This is actually a true statement in that there is no human remedy for the kind of spiritual darkness experienced by Mother Teresa. However, we know from Scripture that not only is Jesus light, and brings spiritual light to his followers, but that his followers are also characterized by this light: 
“Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) 
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
(2) "(T)he very craving for God was a 'sure sign' that God was present—though in a hidden way—in her life."
In my own life, sadly, I can attest that before being born again I had a deep craving to know God and be connected to God. But my heart was not oriented toward the true God of the Bible. However, we know from Scripture that we are made in the image of God, and because of this, we are all - lost and saved alike - spiritual beings who are oriented toward worship (or, "craving" for God). And being thusly made, we all can, and will, worship. The question is: is our worship rightfully oriented toward God? or is it oriented toward the false god(s) conjured up in our vain imaginations? Having a "craving for God" does not prove that the true God of the Bible is present; it merely proves that one is human and is spiritually oriented toward some kind of worship. Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus and Buddhists all seek after God, or so they think. But their "sincerity" does not somehow transform their seeking into true worship. And as Mother Teresa was a practicing Roman Catholic, what evidence is there that she sought the God of the Bible, as opposed to the false, and changeable, "God" of the Roman Catholic church?
(3) "(T)he pain she was going through could be redemptive."
This idea of redemption-through-suffering is far more Roman Catholic than it is Christian. Writes Tim Challies in his article The Myth of Mother Teresa:  
“The common belief is that Mother Teresa worked with the sick and destitute to lovingly return them to health. An examination of her missions will show that this is far from the case. Mother Teresa believed that there is spiritual value in suffering. Once, when tending to a patient dying of cancer, she said 'You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.' (Christoper Hitchens - The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, p. 41). For this reason she would not prescribe pain killers in her clinics, choosing instead to allow her patients to experience the suffering that she believed would bring them closer to Christ. (my emphasis)
So Mother Teresa apparently "ministered" to people in her care by allowing them to suffer pain unrelieved by pain medication under the Roman Catholic delusion that their suffering had redemptive powers. But from Scripture we know that redemption comes through repentance and faith in Christ's atoning death for the forgiveness of sins, and no other way.
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  (John 14:6)
There is also, more importantly, evidence that Mother Teresa withheld the life-giving truth of the gospel message from those in her care who were dying, and would instead encourage them to pray to the "god" of their particular religious faith, whatever that might be. Here is even more troubling evidence that Mother Teresa herself was in all likelihood not saved herself.
I consider this article by Pastor John Ortberg to be a big swing and a miss, and also a real missed opportunity to exhort Catholics to reject the teaching of salvation by sacraments/works/suffering (as taught by the Catholic church) and come out from that dark, spiritual bondage and into the light - the true Light - that only comes by hearing the true gospel message and being born again by faith in Christ alone.

photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Mother Teresa
The Myth of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa A Lost Soul

Mother Teresa in Her Own Words

Testimony of a Former Roman Catholic Priest....From Darkness to Light

Far From Rome, Near to God

Proclaiming the Gospel: The Ministry of Mike Gendron (former Roman Catholic)

CNN Reports That Mother Teresa Underwent Exorcism

BBC Reports About Exorcism Performed on Mother Teresa

A Chart With Christian/Catholic Views Side-By-Side (courtesy of former Roman Catholic priest Richard Bennett)