In Confessions Book 7, Augustine’s mind continues to grow more and more conflicted. Who is God? What is he like? Why is there evil in the world? These (along with a lot of others) are the questions that keep him up at night.
Have you ever been there? I know I have. But as I read Augustine’s story – and am reminded of my own – I can’t help but think about the faithfulness of God. O how he pursues us!
As Francis Thompson once wrote, he is the “hound of heaven.” He is a God who does not wish for “any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And as we learn in Confessions Book 7, he’ll use any means at his disposal to find us and bring us back home.
Confessions Book 7: Using the Pagans to Reach a Pagan
Paul famously told the Corinthian congregation, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). But according to Augustine, God does the same thing. While Augustine was floating in the depths of confusion, God spoke to him – not through the scriptures but through an unlikely source – pagan philosophers.
Meeting the Platonists
The first several chapters of this book repeat Augustine’s prior confusion. He remembers the questions he had for God, he reflects on the beliefs in astrology he encountered, and he recounts how God shepherded him closer and closer to faith in Christ. The breakthrough finally happens when he gets his hands on some books from the Platonists – followers of Plato. Here, he says, “I read (not that the same words were used, but precisely the same doctrine was taught, buttressed by many and various arguments) that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; he was God.”
He goes on to describe how – in his reading – the Platonists’ teachings fit perfectly with the Bible. Though this doesn’t mean that they were perfect. In fact, he recognizes that they weren’t sufficient for salvation at all. But they pointed toward the same God described in the Bible. Paul once wrote that “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ.” For Augustine, it was the Platonists that served in this role.
The Platonists’ doctrine shifted Augustine’s paradigm. All of the Manichean beliefs he had held fell to pieces under the weight of these new thoughts. But they didn’t immediately lead him to Christ. Instead, they helped answer some of the questions about God and evil that he had wondered about. But over time, he realized that something was missing. In his words, “I was drawn toward you by your beauty but swiftly dragged away from you by my own weight, swept back headlong and groaning onto these things below myself; and this weight was carnal habit.”
On the Edge of Faith
Augustine’s head was beginning to change. Perhaps even his heart. But his hands still belonged to the enemy.
And then, for the first time in years, Augustine returned to the Bible. And as he read Paul’s epistles, something happened. “I began to read, and discovered that every truth I had read in those other books was taught here also, but now inseparably from your gift of grace.”
As Augustine closes Confessions Book 7, he’s at the very edge of faith. And the slightest wind will push him over.
In the next chapter, we’ll read about that breeze.
God Speaks Through the Unlikeliest of Voices
As I was reading through this, I was reminded of my own conversion. I asked myself – and others – many of the same questions Augustine did. And, like Augustine, I was led to faith slowly, one step at a time. But the Platonists didn’t lead me to Christ. Instead, God used The Case for Faith by Lee Stroebel. But God isn’t limited to just the Platonists or Lee Stroebel. He can – and does – use anyone and anything to lead us to him.
God can speak to us through the most unlikely of sources – a little child, a television show, or even a pagan philosopher.
But we must keep our eyes and ears open for he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
May we always be ready to listen for the voice of the one who uses pagans to reach pagans.
As always, there’s a lot more I wish I could touch on. If you had a favorite quote or thought as you read, comment below and let us know what it was.
I can’t wait to hear what all of you are thinking about Confessions Book 7!
Oh, and by the way, there’s currently a digital, modern language edition of Augustine’s Confessions available from Amazon for only $3.99!
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