“Is that really God’s voice I’m hearing?”

To many people Mother Teresa was the ultimate saint, sacrificing her life to caring for the poor, and smiling serenely through it all.

But all was not well behind that smile of hers.

The problem was this: she hears what she believes is Christ’s voice on a train in 1946 telling her to “Come be my light” by serving the poor in the slums of Calcutta, but after she gets there and starts working Jesus disappears. She doesn’t feel the love and personal contact she felt from him before. Seven years later she writes a letter about the terrible darkness within her “as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started the work.”

So all that time the world was knocking at her door, thinking she was wonder woman in intimate touch with God and feeling his presence everywhere, she was feeling abandoned by God. Her prayers were empty and she even admitted that saving souls held no attraction for her.

To an atheist this is further proof of how religion twists people into mental knots. But, Christians argue, “It was God’s voice she heard.” So they, just like her, work themselves to the bone doing what they believe God called them to do. But after years of slogging away God seems miles away and life has become a loathsome ritual. But they carry on anyway, just like Mother Teresa, smiling in public as if everything is wonderful, while pouring out their pain in private journals and letters.

There’s something sadly wrong about a religion like that, because it sets people up for discouragement and disillusionment when, after working one’s tail off for God, life is dark and empty. It happened to Mother Teresa.

It didn’t happen to the apostle Paul, however, and he experienced pressures as great as any Mother Teresa ever faced, but God never disappeared on him or left him in terrible darkness.

Christ met his every need and frustration with all the help necessary to see him through (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 and 12:9-10). Sadly, that wasn’t what Mother Teresa experienced. One has to wonder, then, if it really was Christ’s voice she heard on that train, especially when Christ explicitly said he’d never abandon us (John 14:21) – a very different story to that told by Mother Teresa in her letters.

But she did at least write about her pain, and that, hopefully, will free other people up to talk about the pain religion has created in their lives too. And to those who’ve been doing their all for God but God seems so distant, perhaps they too might ask, “Is that really God’s voice I’m hearing?”

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