I’m slowly reading through Henry Chadwick’s translation of Augustine’s Confessions. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a kind of autobiographical testimony of how 4th-century church leader Augustine came to faith in Christ, and his life afterwards. It’s considered a world literature classic. And like all good literature, it discusses life in a timeless, yet ever-applicable way–like it was written yesterday and also written 1600 years ago. It’s full of interesting asides as Augustine stops to discuss all different aspects of the life we all live. For instance, in these passages he discusses the kind of judgment people incur when they ignore God, and he includes himself, discussing how he related to God before he ever acknowledged him–and how close at hand God had been to him, even when he didn’t know it.
Your Punishment is that which human beings do to their own injury because, even when they are sinning against you, their wicked actions are against their own souls. ‘Iniquity lies to itself’ (Psalm 26:9), when men either corrupt or pervert their own nature which you made and ordered, or when people immoderately use what is allowed, or when, turning to what is forbidden, they indulge a burning lust for ‘that use which is contrary to nature’ (Romans 1:26). Or they may be held guilty of bitter hostility against you in mind and words and in ‘kicking against the goad’ (Acts 9:5; 26:14).
Or they brazenly delight in the collapse of the restraints of human society, and in private caucuses and splits, indulging their personal likes and dislikes.
That is the outcome when you are abandoned, fount of life and the one true Creator and Ruler of the entire universe, when from a self-concerned pride a false unity is loved in the part…
Where have those who fled from your face gone? Where can they get beyond the reach of your discovery? (Psalm 138). But they have fled that they should not see you though you see them, and so in their blindness they stumble not seeing you, though you see them, and so in their blindness they stumble over you (Romans 11:7-11); for you do not desert anything you have made.
The unjust stumble over you and are justly chastised. Endeavoring to withdraw themselves from your gentleness, they stumble on your equity and fall into your anger.
They evidently do not know that you are everywhere.
No space circumscribes you.
You alone are always present even to those who have taken themselves far from you. Let them run and seek you, for you have not abandoned your creation as they have deserted their Creator.
Let them turn, and at once you are there in there heart–in the heart of those who make confession to you and throw themselves upon you and weep on your breast after traveling many rough paths.
And you gently wipe away their tears (Revelation 7:17; 21:4), and they weep yet more and rejoice though their tears. For it is you, Lord, not some man of flesh and blood, but you who have made them and now remake and strengthen them.
Where was I when I was seeking for you? You were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you.