I continue to ponder the report, and my own comments as well as those comments of many who responded, to the recent information about the late Mother Theresa going many decades with little or no felt awareness of the presence of God in her heart. In thinking about this question I have gone back to the desert, to the desert fathers of the third and fourth centuries of early Christianity. I believe these desert fathers and mothers have something to say to us about this matter that is almost completely lost on us modern affluent Christians.

Within us all is a voice that says, "I want, I want, I want . . . " This voice is the enemy of our real peace. If we sit still and truly listen then the fact of our death will come to us with clarity and spiritual reality. Attention to this inner voice, or the sense of God or of his absence, will lead us to experience our own fragility and futility. We will then know that we really are creatures, not the Creator. When this happens we will be confronted with the emptiness that lies deep inside of all of us. This is what the ancients spoke about when they wrote of "the dark night of the soul" or "the cloud of unknowing," both concepts that evangelicals misunderstand or reject. Both should rather be understood as the ways the Church has tried to talk about this universal human experience of emptiness.

Here is the point. For the Christian this emptiness, this inner sense of God’s absence, is actually what should become the dwelling place of God within our inner being. This realization that we are truly empty is meant to open us up to revelation and to the shock of who we really are and how we must face death, our final enemy. Says Alan Jones, "The angel of death taps us on the shoulder from time to time to shock us out of our tiny and prejudiced view of things. We need such visitations to shatter our parochial perspective."

My parochial perspective is far deeper than I realize. I sense that the absence I have known is meant to awaken me and shock me. By the grace of God I pray more frequently now that it is having that impact in me.

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Comments

  1. David Gordon September 5, 2007 at 1:13 am

    John
    Thank you for these comments. The last 3 years of my life I’ve experienced this dark night of the soul. Looking back to the early church practice with worship has helped. I do want. But because the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. This I have to daily trust in the Lord.
    David

  2. Jack Isaacson September 6, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Having read the Time magazine article, the two blogs by John and the comments, concerning the book, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta’, I have just one question that comes from the American television game show, “To Tell The Truth”, Will the REAL Agnes Bojaxhiu ,alias, mother Teresa, “Please stand up” ? Jack Isaacson

  3. Richard September 22, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Dr. Armstrong,
    Could you clarify what you meant by the voice that says “I want I want”? I didn’t quite understand.

  4. M.V. November 22, 2007 at 4:20 am

    This “inner sense of emptiness” that you mention, is too philosophical and theoretical. All of us, normal, boring, everyday human beings have an inner sense of emptiness sometimes during our lives. But these feelings of ours, in my opinion, are completely different from what I think Mother Theresa experienced.
    I wonder how Mother Theresa could have kept her faith in God and Jesus, when what she only saw in Calcuta was suffering, misery, extreme poverty, hunger, ilness, pain and death?

  5. Randy December 25, 2007 at 9:43 am

    Mother Theresa’s experience of darkness was a time of changing of Energy. Much like Jesus’s darkness on the cross when he said “God, where have you gone?” He had reached a point of transition, when the Energy was changing. He shortly experienced the feel of God. Mother Theresa however, never experienced it because she didn’t accept the changing of the Energy. She was still relating to God with old Energy. When she died, she caught up to the that Energy.

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