Augustine’s Glory Filled Rhetoric: Book 1

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).”[1]

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?”[2]

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?”[3] 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?”[4]

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.”[5]

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.

 

[1] Augustine, Confessions 3

[2] ibid 3

[3] ibid 4

[4] ibid 4

[5] ibid 4-5

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The Exchange Podcast Episode 1

Here is a link to the first episode of a podcast that Josh Pannell, Daniel Lopez, and I are working on. This week we discussed The Mike Pence and Hamilton Debacle, Donald Trump and Carrier, and if the Babylon Bee is funny or not. Hope you enjoy it!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ep001-did-pence-deserve-to/id1184450387?i=1000378735536&mt=2

A Faith that Remembers

The nation of Israel endured a rich, roller coaster, storied history. As the nation birthed from the barren couple began, so it continued through abnormality and oddity. God doesn’t deliver according to the directions from the box. He makes foolish the wisdom of man and brings to nothing the strength of the strong. God is in the heavens and He does that which he pleases. God blots out the sun with flies and locusts, He turns red the rivers, He makes the sea a pathway to walk on, and causes it to rain edible sustenance. Our God tends to neglect the predictable and go the long, unexpected way around. This is unfathomable and unexpected good news. Just as God’s ways are not our ways, it is also true that God’s ways are much more preferable than our ways.

The required requisite to successfully riding this roller coaster is not the rider’s height, strength, or ability to keep up, for this notion is absolutely implausible; it is to trust that the dips, turns, loops, and corkscrews are what is best for their well-being in Christ. Our lives will contain their fair share of controversy and doubt-filled episodes. When you are a follower of Christ, the unexpected is the only thing that can be expected. But these circumstances are used to chip and chisel away at our self-confidence and cement our confidence in the One who deserves it.

This philosophy is fine and dandy on the outset of a painful occurrence, and even immediately afterward as God is faithful through everything. It is trusting Him during, and remembering his faithfulness a decent way down the road that is the tricky bit. This was Israel’s problem during the period of the Judges. Israel’s pattern of practice during that time was to rebel against God, become ensnared by their sin and become oppressed by their enemies, call out to God for deliverance, God would raise up a savior to deliver the people, the land would rest from war, the savior would pass away, and the process would repeat itself.[1] The remembrance of the deliverance of the Lord would barely outlive the servant He used to bring about that deliverance.

So forgetfulness was the biggest enemy of Israel’s faith in God.[2] When the next dip or roll would come against them, they would forget what God had just passed them through and respond in faithlessness.  This was the reason for their constant struggle and pain.

But, I want to point out an interesting, applicable fact to this whole idea. As the servant of the Lord would pass, so also would the most of the people that he delivered. The people that experienced the salvation of the Lord firsthand would pass away. So forgetfulness was Israel’s biggest enemy, but you could say that a close second was the failure to pass down to the next generation the tradition of trusting in God for deliverance. It would be the children of the delivered people that would rebel and turn away.

Therefore, part of good parenting for your children, or simply caring for the next generation, is sharing with them how God delivered you specifically. Even if they didn’t live through it or experience it, it will be a rich resource of faith for them. So let us be faithful to remember the deliverance of the Lord, but also to speak it generously with the next generation.

But of course, God had already considered this potential trouble and included it with the law for Israel to follow faithfully. Notice:

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”[3]

So, in this season of remembering the mighty deeds of God, and especially the incarnation of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ, let us be faithful to remember and retell the wonderful stories of deliverance to our families and friends. These are valuable tools to walking and living by faith.

[1] See Judges 3:7-11; 3:12a-30; 4:1-31b; 6:1a-8:28, and other places.

[2] This thought originated from a commentator named Dale Ralph Davis.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:7-9