Augustine of Hippo notably said, “The thought of you stirs him so deeply he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you”.
For those who have not yet experienced the redemption of the soul through Christ, life can appear as a constant struggle to find a missing piece of the soul. We tend to try and fill this God-shaped hole on our own with distractions such as work, debauchery, spirituality and so forth.
At first glance, Augustine can appear as a sort of typical preacher emphasizing our great depravity in a “sinners in the hands of an angry God” type of way. However, the moral of the story is focused on the peace one can find in Christ in order to resolve the daily inner spiral and find ultimate meaning. Augustine was completely vulnerable when writing his confessions recognizing and creating a distinction between virtues and vices according to God’s character.
Augustine provides a poetic autobiographical account of the radical evolution of his beliefs and lifestyle from a desperate skeptic scholar to a faithful Chrisitan in his Confessions. Augustine recognized the depravity of man and the inability of human beings to determine what is good on our own for our souls.
From his studies in philosophy under the Manichees, Augustine spoke of his misunderstanding of truth by accepting the theories of scholars which resulted in his grievances for his unfruitful and immoral lifestyle. Augustine often speaks of his search for truth outside of God leading to pain, confusion and error.
Stemming from his salvation, through the sanctification process, Augustine immediately rebuilt his worldview from the ground up.
No longer did Augustine solely live by his reason. He began to put reason in submission to faith in the monotheistic God. After Augustine’s radical heart change and inevitable recreation of the virtue hierarchy, he followed God’s Word in placing faith, hope, and love at the summit. Augustine wrote, “I loved the peace that virtue brings and hated the discord that comes from vice. From this I concluded that in goodness there was unity, but in evil disunion of some kind”. He goes on to explain he was misguided in believing the unity and goodness could be found anywhere but in God. Unity must be found in goodness and goodness in God.
Living in the world and not of it is one of the most difficult inner contradictions Christians will deal with in this lifetime. Where should the line be drawn between legalism and foolishness? Deciphering good actions from evil desires can be difficult due to our fallen nature. Man is corrupt and has often times presented supplementary standards for Christian faith which are built on manmade tradition when our salvation should be built on Christ alone. However, Satan prowls like a roaring lion, so we must be on our guard to avoid the gateway to a slippery sin slope.
Augustine writes, “But little things despise, and little by little you shall come to ruin”.
Participating in indulgent sinful acts is temporarily satisfactory; however, you get your fill and leave emptier than before. When premeditated foolish questioning takes place in crucial moral decision making, the consequences do not seem detrimental. The repercussions may even seem worth it and almost justifiable in an ethical sense. Unfortunately, the consequences of acting in opposition to virtuous living reach far beyond the surface level consequences we can deliberate.
Confessions brings to light the inner splitting of the soul of those running from God which inevitably occurs due to indulgence in sin.
Augustine writes, “Your punishments are for the sins which men commit against themselves, because although they sin against you, they do wrong to their own souls and their malice is self-betrayed”.
The result of pursuing hedonistic ideas and minimizing the weight of evil deeds is not reducible to simply atoning for the immediate repercussions but continues as a perpetual burden to the soul. This looks relatively different in its manifestation for each individual but consistently leaves you wanting more from the medium of pleasure with no eternal fulfillment. Anxiety and depression will feel more normal than seemingly unachievable happiness. With no purpose past the immediate satisfaction of meaningless needs, our soul can only find solace in solitude or distraction.
Thank God for forgiveness. The beauty of Christ is His unconditional mercy. No longer are we bound by our past actions. What matters is what we do next. Human beings are given the opportunity to seek truth, goodness and beauty through Christ in order to prescribe our actions in pursuit of the virtuous life as we set our eyes on the things above.
Augustine writes, “When things are displaced, they are always on the move until they come to rest where they are meant to be. In my case, love is the weight by which I act. To whatever place I go, I am drawn to it by love. By your Gift, the Holy Ghost, we are set aflame and borne aloft, and the fire within us carries us upward. Our hearts are set on an upward journey, as we sing the song of ascents”.