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Mother Teresa's Letters

Sept 21, 2007, Wausau, Wi  Recently published letters of Mother Teresa revealed that, though her public life was one marked by service to God,  privately she had struggled with doubt. For many, this might seem like a contradiction, or even a sinful lack of faith, but I do not see any conflict at all.

As a young Christian, I struggled with trying to understand what faith was.  When I would hear pastors preached on the subject, I was often left even more confused. I was frequently told that faith was an otherworldly gift of God which was the basis not only for our salvation, but for our daily walk with God. Faith and doubt were often portrayed as opposites; you either had one or the other. This common view was why so many were the puzzled at Mother Teresa’s letters.

While such views of faith seemed to satisfy, and even encourage, those around me, they left me still wondering; exactly what is this otherworldly gift? How did I know I had it? When doubts arose, was that a sign of sin? I seemed to have a lot of questions, but not many answers.

Like many of my more troubling questions, the ultimate answer came, not by seeking out “better teachers” but by spending time with God, thought prayer and the study of His word.

The key for me came with the realization that, even though they are related, and in fact are often used synonymously, faith and belief are not the same thing.  After all, the demons believe in God, but are not saved. (James 2:19)  It is not our belief in God, Jesus Christ, or even his death burial and resurrection to cleanse us from our sins that saves us.  It is our faith in these that saves us. In fact, simply believing is what James refers to as a “dead faith.” (James 2:17)

But while an important realization, this was still only telling me what Faith was not, in this case, that it was not belief. It still did not tell me what it was. The answer was to be found in Hebrews Chapter 11, the chapter on faith.  I had heard many sermons on this, but most focused on the first verse where faith is defined as “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” 

Taken out of context, this would seem to link faith and belief, but rest of the chapter is a listing of examples of the faithful having faith. These examples flesh out the meaning of the faith and show us not only exactly what it is, but how we can have it.

Take the example of Noah, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” (Heb 11:7)  Note the key focus of this example of faith, is not that Noah believed without a doubt that the flood would come but that he built the Ark.  In fact almost all the examples in this chapter follow the literally formula of by faith, someone did something.   Throughout the chapter the focus is what they did, not on what they thought.

This is faith.  It is the confidence, or trust, we have in our beliefs that leads us to act upon them. The core of faith is not belief, it is trust.  We may intellectually believe that God exists, or even that he sent his Son to die for us on the cross as a payment for our sins, but we have faith when we trust in this enough to change the way we live our lives.  If we really have faith, we will serve God, for as James says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

To be clear this is not salvation base on works.  Works do not result in salvation. Faith results in salvation, and a true saving faith will have an effect on how we live. How could to be otherwise?  Can someone really trust in God and really trust what he says, and yet not let it affecting anything they do?  Can someone really trust in Christ’s crucifixion as a payment for their sins without any impact in their life? I do not think it is possible.

When faith is understood in the context of trust that leads to action, instead of belief, one can easily see that there is no contradiction in the way that Mother Teresa led her life, even though she struggled with doubt.  In fact, her doubts only further testify to her faith.  It is easy to have faith in things about which you are certain.  Those who have flown many times may not give getting on a plane a second thought. Having faith that the plane will not crash is easy. But for those with doubts, to have the faith to get on the plane can be a struggle.   So it is a testimony to Mother Teresa’s faith, that despite her doubts, she still had the faith to lead a life of service.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

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