Restless is Our Heart until it Comes to Rest in Thee

MARCH / APRIL 2016: BY VICTORIA WILLIAMS

augustine

Sometimes a story is told of a Christian mother yearning for her son to come to Christ. The young man is enraptured by many worldly pleasures. He is ambitious and full of pride—but his intellectual brilliance seems to justify his pride, and promise worldly success. Who could challenge such a man, or convince him of error? Additionally, he is easily led astray by his peers, enamored of a mistress, and intrigued by the strange philosophies of a religious cult. The mother prays on zealously for her only son. After years of tears and prayers, her son, Augustine, becomes a believer. He will become one of the great fathers of the early church.

What if Augustine had not lived and wandered lost, only to be sought by God and gloriously saved? Would the Christian church be anything like we know it today? His contributions were tremendous. Augustine served as Bishop of Hippo, in a time when all knew the costs of serving in such an office were great, and the rewards few. In this role, he stemmed the tide of major heresies in the early church—including the false religion he was previously involved in. And he wrote. Most famously, he wrote The Confessions, and City of God, but the volume of his work was enormous. Even his volume of retractions—as he carefully reviewed his writings late in life, seeking to divide truth from error—was large. His writings shaped the expectations of the Christian worldview in ways we can hardly imagine.

Writing to friends—fellow sojourners whose hearts yearned upward to God—Augustine put forward an autobiography, The Confessions. Writing in his early 40’s, he re-assessed all his past history in light of the designs and purposes of God upon his life. He remembered his life as a desperate man seeking to fulfill his desires. “For,” as Augustine himself wrote, “wherever the soul of man turns itself, unless toward Thee, it is enmeshed in sorrows, even though it is surrounded by beautiful things outside Thee and outside itself.” [1]  Looking back, he saw the hand of a kind and patient Father at work through it all, drawing his heart to God’s. The otherworldliness of his book is just as shocking today as it was then; this is a book lit up by a dazzling glow from beyond this world. Above all, he is dialoguing with God (“O God, my Joy”). It is delight; it is worship—from stirring meditations on a great scale, to asking a question with childlike curiosity—and then asking the Lord, “Do You laugh at me for asking such things?” [2]

Not only Augustine’s worldview shakes our assumptions—but the world he lived in does as well. When we speak of “servant leadership” today, we still expect most leaders to be ambitious. We do not think of priests who wish to flee from people who would make them bishop. A man of education and ecclesiastical training such as Augustine’s would be pressed into the office of Bishop. With tears, though, he lamented the loss so of much time he yearned to spend quietly meditating on God’s Word, on the beauty of God’s person. But Augustine accepted the life of a servant-shepherd, and worked tirelessly.

The ecclesiastical world he lived in was jarring in some ways that challenge us. The wider culture had ungodly assumptions embedded in its beliefs as well. Although Augustine’s mother Monica was a Christian, the culture’s usual assumptions still bore a heavy influence on her. She sought that Augustine would be well-taught but later he lamented the immorality taught in the classic works Greek literature he had read as a child. Even in spite of worldliness and her own failings, the desire for her son to be in the kingdom of God was bursting through.

Augustine recalled a dream his mother had in which she was asked about the cause of her weeping. When she explained that she was grieving the doom of her son’s soul, she was told to rest content, and to “look and see that where she was there her son was also.” And, in the dream, there he was. When she recounted it to her son, he tried to turn it around, saying that she would come to be where he was—that is, to believe as he did. But with conviction, she responded immediately: “No; for it was not told me that ‘where he is, there you shall be’ but ‘where you are, there he will be.” [3]

This conversation—both because she was not disturbed by the plausibility of his false interpretation—and due to the insight she had which he had not noticed—moved him even more than the recounting of the dream. And Monica prayed on. We know how this story ends: with life and peace for Augustine and enormous blessing for God’s people.

May we be influenced by Augustine’s writings, and the glorious story of his salvation. When we see a mother struggling hopelessly to win her child to Christ, maybe God is making her heart like Monica’s. When we think of someone of great intellect, who has set himself against God, perhaps God is preparing someone like Augustine.

Believers need more imagination —to hope and pray for the good things that the good God gives to those He calls to goodness. ♥

Sources: [1] “The Confessions,” Book 4, Chapter X. Augustine; [2] “The Confessions,” Book 1, Chapter VI. Augustine; [3] “The Confessions,” Book 3, Chapter XI. Augustine

marchapril2016

Victoria Williams is a Christian woman who loves reading, teaching math, and watching people grow. Her obsessions include the Gospel, loving the weak, peacemaking, cross-cultural ministry, storytelling, nerdy conversations with friends, and coffee. She also blogs.

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