Today is All Saints Day, and it reminds me how deeply aware, in his homilies on 1 John, Augustine was of the connectedness of this world with the world which is to come. God’s love, he explained, is drawing us into an unimaginable future, where we will be one with Jesus, and with all the family of God. Trying to describe the indescribable, Augustine told his congregation,
we are to see a certain vision, … a vision surpassing all earthly beautifulness, of gold, of silver, of groves and fields; the beautifulness of sea and air, the beautifulness of sun and moon, the beautifulness of the stars, the beautifulness of angels: surpassing all things: because from it are all things beautiful.
Yet in his fourth century congregation he must have been aware of many who lived with uninvited suffering and tragedy of their lives. For them, as well as for us, life at times could feel like a wilderness, a desert. However, said Augustine, what makes the suffering of this world bearable, and leads us to the joy of the world to come, is love.
That therefore which God promises us is ineffable sweetness and a good … But by temporal labours we are exercised, and by temptations of this present life are trained. Howbeit, if you would not die of thirst in this wilderness, drink love. It is the fountain which God has been pleased to place here that we faint not in the way: and we shall more abundantly drink thereof when we have come to our own land.
In the suffering and tragedy we see around us, love alone will quench the thirst of our souls, sustain us on our journey, and draw us into the deep, indescribable love of the One who is Love. May you this week, be aware of that love which alone will sustain you, quench the thirst of your soul, and draw you into the joy of the world which is to come.
Image by chiplanay from Pixabay
In his younger days, Augustine mocked the seeming contradictions and inconsistencies in the Christian Scriptures. They were a great obstacle to him. But after his conversion, under the erudite preaching of Ambrose, everything seemed to change. In fact, as a preacher, it led to him seeking out knotty issues in the Scriptures and presenting them to his congregation! I admire his boldness and the way he analysed contradictions so eloquently. One such issue, which Augustine raised with his congregation, is from 1 John 4 which says that “perfect love casts out fear,” yet Psalm 19 says “the fear of the Lord is pure and lasts forever.” So he asked the question,
if two pipes filled by one breathing sound in unison,
can two tongues, filled with the Spirit or Breathing of God, make a dissonance?
He went on to elaborate that there are different kinds of fear in the Scriptures, the fear of punishment and the fear of being separated from the presence of God for whom we yearn. The fear which is not yet pure, he said,
comes not from the love of God, but from the fear of punishment:
but when you fear God lest His presence forsake you,
you embrace Him, you long to enjoy God Himself.
Augustine was a man who yearned after God, and as I reflect on his thoughts I am stirred in my yearning for God too. May your longing and love for God this week draw you into a unison “with the Spirit or the Breathing of God.”
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash
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