I was reading a little more this morning in "Faith on the Edge" ... basically it addresses the "dark night of the soul" and tries to bring a coherent theology to a season of doubting, or loss of faith, in one's life. Like I said before, it's really well done. I've underlined a lot.
But it's sad to me that I'm not totally buying in. As I read, I'm continually aware that my dark night of the soul may indeed be the last gasps of my faith in the God of the Christian Bible (although I doubt I'll ever lose belief in God altogether and don't think I can ever call myself an atheist. Maybe, as Hitchens says, I'll be a "Protestant atheist." Simply not believing in the Protestant God.)
I read a chapter on Mother Teresa today which addressed her own decades-long experience of God's total absence. It was very dark for her, yet she continued her mission, eventually coming to embrace a theology of God's absence that described it as God's way of bringing her into total communion with those she served. She was in pain constantly, longing, longing, longing for God, longing for the joy and consolation that His presence brings, and never getting it. She was unbearably lonely and sad. And this, she eventually believed, mirrored the constant state of the desperately poor in Calcutta... a life of total disappointment, little (if any) real joy, deep darkness, and of course, no relationship to God. (The book explains it better that I have.)
So she came to believe God was allowing this in her life so that she would be completely in sync with those God had called her to serve.
My epiphany was this: Mother Teresa was just depressed. Deeply, severely clinically depressed. She couched her depression in religious terms -- absence of God, dark night of the soul -- but if you take away the religious language you get DEPRESSION which, after all, would be a completely normal and rational human response to the poverty and desperation that marks life in Calcutta and many other places of the world.
If you work amongst the lowest of the low, see constant unrelenting pain and suffering all around you, devote your life to it, and yet never see any evidence of the situation changing, OF COURSE you'd be depressed if you had even the most basic humanity in you.
So where Mother Teresa finds "absence of a tangible experience of God," I find "evidence that the God you believe in never existed."
This is tough stuff.
I will leave the Mother Teresa topic now for another that I discovered in this book. The author talks about how Christians often treat God like the genie in a bottle, here to meet our needs. We pray and petition him because we need stuff. But when you have a dark night (experience total absence of God) you no longer have a genie. God is no longer at our beck and call. The author says this teaches us to put God back in his place—it forces us to remember who is servant and who is master. So the “dark night” can help transform a self-serving faith into a God-serving one.
But what if the dark night clarifies for me that my concept of a genie-God was so wrong because Christians taught me wrongly? And that in fact, the Christian God doesn’t exist and there is no genie anywhere, and I’m better off coming to terms with that fact?
Because of my work and my circle of friends, I hang out in groups of Christians all the time, and it amazes me how much people are constantly begging God for stuff: safe travels, and healing for illness, and wisdom for job decisions, and strength to deal with tough family situations, and financial miracles. The petitions are constant and unending and so many of them go unanswered… how can anyone possibly justify believing in a God who capriciously decides to answer some prayers and not others? How can you possibly believe in an interventionist God and actually think he’s “good” when it’s clear how often he doesn’t intervene?
I am so tired of the whole Christian “thing” of trying to make every argument go away. As Hitchens describes it, it’s a constant effort to fit square pegs in round holes. To make non-sensical things have the illusion of making sense.