What I Learned From A 1656-Year-Old Dead Man: Part 1

Augustine of Hippo

I know I’ve failed at consistency.  I know I’ve failed at providing meaningful content.  I know I’ve slid to the imbalance of consumption rather than creation.  But part of it is that I must intentionally, from time to time, separate from the digital to engage the analogue.

How many books have you read in the last month? Magazines in the past year – ones with actual substance and articles, not just photos and faces?  How many paperbacks or hardcovers have graced your desk or coffee table?  We’re headed in the direction of paper and binding finding use merely as props for a living room’s aesthetic appeal, or for some, a strictly necessary instrument for academic studies.
 
I need to remember books.  I need to remember what’s in books.  A little archaic?  Perhaps.  Maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe we shouldn’t let it get to that point.  I think a little insightful magic happens when we acknowledge one of the most grandiose advances in historical media, representedby hundreds of pages littered with printed letters and numbers, distributed widely for entertainment, education, enlightenment.
 
Takes a little more effort to really engage than 140 characters of self-promoting jargon, aye?
 
Since I’m often one of those malicious hashtaggers, a little classic literature seemed appropriate.  Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” packs brutal and embarrassing honesty, grievous and prideful transgressions, heartfelt agony and self-loathing against transcendent rejoicing and compassionate professions of love. Questions.  Doubt.  Confidence.  Faithfulness. Imperfection.  Desiring perfection.  Trust.  Truth-seeking.  Unmistakable authenticity.
 

Augustine’s Confessions

A few selectionsand responses:
 
“To praise you isthe desire of man, a little piece of your creation.  You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because youhave made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
 
  • Who better to determine for us our purpose that the one who made us?  The gross failure of sin is that it’s a direct rebellion against the very good that we have access to, yet repeatedly neglect and avoid.  Hence, we find inner peace and resolve when we’re anchored in the Jesus to whom we belong.
 
“Who then are you, my God?  Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength, stable and incomprehensible, immutable and yet changing all things, never new, never old, making everything new and leading the proud to be old without their knowledge; always active, always in repose, gathering to yourself but not in need, supporting and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to maturity, searching even though to you nothing is lacking: you love without burning, you are jealous in a way that is free of anxiety, you repent without the pain of regret, you are wrathful and remain tranquil.  You will a change without any change in your design.  You recover what you find, yet have never lost.  Never in any need, you rejoice in your gains; you are never avaricious, yet you require interest.  We pay you more than you require so as to make you our debtor, yet who has anything which does not belong to you?”
 
  • How does one grow so familiar to God that he confidently, and hopefully quite accurately, describes attributes of God that often seem contradictory, counterintuitive, or far-fetched?  I would argue that many of the deepest, most meaningful and transformative characteristics of God cannot be learned merely by reading or study or teaching or listening.  Some, without a doubt, yes – but it seems like the only way one legitimately, authentically takes a concept and reality to heart is by enduring some corresponding event, situation, or other catalyst which drives him to determine if his mind and heart are united in perception of the character of God. A.W. Tozer says, “What comes into our minds when we think about God isthe most important thing about us.” Like any other substantial relationship, more things are caught than taught, more things become clear throughout endurance over periods of time, more traits show true colors when proximity changes.  The closer one is to another, more accurate will be his focus on that which formerly was foreign. Authentic connection requires proximity and time.
 
“Nothing is nearer to your ears than a confessing heart and a life grounded in faith.”
 
  • Jesus must love it when we return, broken and finally humbled after our brazen pride rots from inside out, to see that his arms have always been open and waiting like a fiercely compassionate father who never gives up hope.  Repentance.  Believe. Confess.  Reconciled.  He hears us.  He’s about our good. He’s not so concerned with big words, formalities, or keeping at bay those who are messy and complicated. Creation.  Fall.  Redemption.
 
“Mercy cannot exist apart from suffering…Some kind of suffering is commendable, but none is lovable.  You, Lord God, love of souls, show a compassion far purer and freer of mixed motives than ours; for no suffering injures you.”
 
  • Like proximity and time, suffering draws out the core of a person.  Difficulty and stress reveal who one professes to be, because like a scalpel trained in hand, suffering cuts away the extra fluff, exterior shell, and unnecessary priorities of someone.  Also, light cannot be noticed except that it shines in darkness.  Good cannot be clearly seen for how good it is unless contrasted with evil.  Mercy is manifest amidst a world of suffering, where mercy is most visibly noticed.
 
It seems like reading, learning, embracing challenges in thought and worldview serves wonderfully to sharpen and enhance the ability to engage people, ideas andevents.  Stay on your toes, my friends.
 
More to follow.
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