The Confessions of Saint Augustine Chapters 3-5
As we look to these next chapters, Augustine is pondering the very nature of God. And what he discovers is that there is much about God that to his mind seems to be a paradox. God fills the earth, yet does not contain it. God is in all things, but is not all things. We owe God a debt, but God never loses anything. Even though we cannot pay the debt, God is no less complete.
Moreover, the actions of God are equally paradoxical. God is poured out in us, but nothing ever flows out. In fact we are made more full by God. Augustine recognizes that in the contemplation of God there will always be this paradox, since in fact, we can never understand God. Chapter 4 begins with a question that we cannot answer, namely, “Who is God?” This is in fact such a difficult reality for us. We seek and strive to understand mysteries. Science longs to solve the problems that plague us. We want to know with certainty who this God is that loves us. But God is so far beyond all we can imagine it simply is not possible.
Does this mean the exercise is pointless? Of course not. Even the little ways we can know God more fully are of great benefit to us. Even in very small ways we grow in tremendous grace because God’s love for us is so vast, so great, so awesome. Even when we become broken by sin, God is not poured out of us. In fact, all we can do is to place ourselves in the magnificence of God and be filled with awe. We can only realize the brokenness of our own lives and ask God to come into our hearts. We must begin with a simple admission that we cannot save ourselves and as a result we need a Savior. But the good news is that we have one. (To learn more about Pelagius, read this article from the New Catholic Encyclopedia.)
Questions to Ponder
We speak of God both in terms of transcendence and imminence. In other words, God is all-powerful (transcendent) and yet loves us more than we can know (imminent). How do you experience and have you experienced the transcendence of God?
It is not always easy to believe our brokenness and sinfulness can be forgiven by God. How do you experience the forgiveness of God? How is it you prepare for the sacrament of Confession?
In what ways do you speak of God even though you can never fully speak perfectly of God?