Augustine’s Confessions is heralded as one of the most important pieces of theological literature ever written. It is Augustine’s autobiography, in which he traces his early life, conversion, and subsequent battle for holiness theologically. Its prose is penned as an entire prayer to the Almighty God. Its first few pages begin very interestingly as Augustine expounds several paradoxical characteristics of the person and nature of God. I would like to walk through a couple because I believe they hold a valuable lesson for our own devotional and spiritual life.
Augustine begins his Confessions by approaching and considering the main character of his story: God Almighty. “You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps. 47:2): great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable’ (Ps. 146:5).”
He then moves on to ask a series of rhetorical questions that expound the infinite nature of God. He considers if praising God comes before or after knowing Him. He then considers if knowledge of God precedes calling upon Him, or if calling upon Him leads to knowledge. “Grant me Lord to know and understand which comes first—to call upon you or to praise you, and whether knowing you precedes calling upon you. But who calls upon you when he does not know you?”
He then considers the interesting action of calling upon God for Him to be near you. But the nature of calling upon God seems redundant for God is in all and fills all places. Augustine considers this paradoxical truth. “So why do I request you to come to me when, unless you were within me, I would have no being at all?” What he is getting at is that if God was not upholding him and sustaining his very being, he would cease to exist. Yet, it is right call upon God to never leave or forsake us and to be near and close to us.
He then considers how exactly God is everywhere and fills all things. “Is it that because all things cannot contain the whole of you, they contain part of you, and that all things contain the same part of you simultaneously? Or does each part contain a different part of you, the larger containing the greater parts, the lesser parts the smaller? Does that imply that there is some part of you which is greater, another part smaller? Or is the whole of you everywhere, yet without anything that contains you entire?”
Augustine’s literary point, in my opinion, is not to ask these questions that we may know the answers. These are paradoxical in nature, meaning, that only God holds the specific answers. Augustine’s point is to ask these unanswerable questions that we might learn something about the nature of the God we serve, pray to, sin against, and, for whom, we live our lives. God is infinite. His borders blow past any sort of humanly answer we might conjure up to these questions. Augustine continues:
“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… 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’ (Gen. 6:6) 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 (Luke 15:7); you are never avaricious, yet you require interest (Matt. 25:27). You pay off debts though owing nothing to anyone; you cancel debts and incur no loss. But in these words what have I said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you? Yet woe to those who are silent about you because though (philosophical) with (wordiness), they will have nothing to say.”
So what are we to say concerning the Unspeakable God? Sometimes allowing ourselves to simply be overwhelmed by the infinite nature of God can reap dividends for us spiritually. Sometimes just staring our own immortality in the face, by looking upon God’s vastness is exactly what we need to live faithfully. Sometimes the only context we need is that God is massive and that we are, very much, unlike God in that area. Let us follow Augustine’s lead and allow our devotional and spiritual lives to garner a sense of God’s infinite nature. We will be better off for it.
 Augustine, Confessions 3
 ibid 3
 ibid 4
 ibid 4
 ibid 4-5