I've just been reading Michael Novak's commentary on Teresa of Calcutta. Novak is not my favorite spiritual writer, but he plays a valuable role, by putting forth decent commentary on things Catholic to be read by the broader conservative community. I can't link to his essay because it's for National Review subscribers.
But Novak makes an important point. Spiritual darkness doesn't prove (as Christopher Hitchens claims) that God doesn't exist. In fact, it "proves" (in another sense of the word) the opposite. Spiritual darkness is all about God being bigger than our minds. If God were just a figment of our imagination, there would be no reason to feel far from him.
I think that's a big part of the purpose of suffering, both spiritual and otherwise. Suffering reminds us that reality is bigger than we are. Physical suffering, or any natural kind of suffering, means we come crashing against something that we can't remove. Smacking against the pavement -- or against another person's rejection -- is so awful, in large part, because it is a slap in the face to our complacency. We are so used to our day-dreaming, and all of our efforts to make the world just how we want it to be. Suffering is the discovery that reality is not up to us.
Spiritual suffering, like Mother Teresa's, goes to the heart of this. It is the discovery that God is not at our beck and call. He is not our servant, not like the science-fiction machine where you just push a button and you feel good. What's really terrible about such a machine is it means complete detachment from the world around you. What's truly wonderful about suffering is it means profound awareness of the world around you. And profound awareness that God is so much bigger, so far beyond ourselves.