Who will allow me to find rest in you? Who will enable you to come into my heart and make it drunk [with your Spirit], so that I should forget the bad things in my life and embrace the only good thing: you? What are you to me? Have mercy on me to say it. What am I myself, to you, that you command me to love you, and if I don’t, you grow angry and threaten me with lasting punishment? Is it, then, a small thing not to love you? Woe to me! Tell me, on account of your mercies, Lord my God, what you are to me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” Speak that I may hear you. Behold the eyes of my heart are before you, Lord. Open them and say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” I will run towards that voice and embrace you. Do not hide your face from me: may I die–lest I die!–so that I may see you.
The house of my soul is too small for you to enter it: may it be enlarged by you. It is falling apart: rebuild it. My house contains many things that would offend your eyes: I know and confess it. But who will clean it? Or to whom other than you shall I cry out, “cleanse me from my secret sins, Lord, and spare me from those sins foreign to me?” I believe, and therefore I speak, Lord: you know […]
[St. Augustine’s Confessions 1.5]
I read this sinner’s prayer of confession today and was really moved. I thought that since Matt and I are both fairly busy and haven’t had time recently for longer, more thoughtful posts, this would be a good alternative. I hope that my rendering of Augustine’s text lifts you up and encourages you in the same way that he encouraged me. It is important to understand that in the previous confessions (this is #5), Augustine has been developing the greatness of God and the comparable insignificance of man. This is why he starts out asking the question: “How can I ever find rest in you, God?” He delights in the fact that God loves us and desires to be loved by us. When Augustine says that God commands us to love him, the phrase in Latin literally has the sense of “commands himself to be loved by us,” but that, for obvious reasons, doesn’t work very well in English. This does help us, however, understand that Augustine means to say that God wants to be loved by us, not just to love us.
I also like how Augustine allows God to define the entire relationship. He asks the two questions: “what are you to me?” and “what am I myself […]?” and then answers them by asking God to tell him “what you are to me.” Augustine knows the answer, namely that God is his salvation, but he desires for God to speak it to him in a deeper, more penetrating way. Know that God loves you, and that his Spirit speaks unto our spirits saying “I am your salvation” (salus tua ego sum). Our response should not be any different than St. Augustine’s: to run and embrace God. When we realize the depth of God’s love for us, we cannot help but respond to him with our own love. For Augustine, the thought of God hiding his face from him makes him sick unto death (lest I die!)
The most natural response of someone trying to reject God’s love and forgiveness is to say that God cannot forgive whatever sin he has committed. Augustine provides an interesting response to this kind of reasoning, however, by pointing to the fact that no one else is more able, more appropriate for the task. There is no salvation apart from Christ. No one else can wash away our sins. Cherish God’s love and forgiveness. Respond to his love by loving him back. Don’t allow your sin to be a stumbling block to you, but run to God, since he is the only cure. This reminds me of the leper Jesus healed at the end of Mark 1 who came to Jesus and said: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus’ response is comforting to me: “I am willing. Be clean!”
James, the younger brother
Amendment: 5 March
Check out the song I wrote that is adapted from this translation.