Longings

Where does this longing of the soul come from?

 [God] has also set eternity in the human heart;

yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

- Ecclesiastes 3:11

Augustine was born in 354 A.D. in North Africa to a pagan Roman official and a Christian mother named Monica. During Augustine’s adolescence she admonished him to avoid sex outside of marriage and other forms of sexual immorality. The young man interpreted this as "womanish"[i] advice and set about ignoring it.

At seventeen years old, Augustine moved to Carthage where his adolescent sexual desires were wooed by what he described as "outrageous loves." In this deep emotional and spiritual hunger he tenaciously sought to satisfy his cravings through a "cauldron of illicit loves"[ii]. His drunken indulgence of the sensual lifestyle left him with broken relationships and created in him jealousies, anger, and eventually regret and a deep emptiness.

At twenty years old, having completed his studies abroad, Augustine returned home and became a teacher. Frustrated by his student's lack of discipline, at age thirty, Augustine accepted an invitation to become a professor of rhetoric in Milan. His mother went with him praying and hoping that her son would convert to Christianity.

Her prayers were answered.

In Milan, Augustine was engrossed in the insight and skill of the city’s most famous orator, Ambrose. In him Augustine saw what it looked like to be a Christian who was also an intellectual. Through Ambrose's teachings and his mother's prayers, the truths of Jesus Christ would finally match the longing in his soul.

On an autumn day in AD 386, thirty-two-year-old Augustine, agitated in soul and feeling the violence of shame, ran outside his rented home and collapsed in tears under a tree. The stories of others finding faith and freedom in God were creating in Augustine a realization of his own self-hatred. He cried out to God, “How long, Lord? Will you be angry with me forever?” His despondency was interrupted when he heard a child’s voice say, “Take it and read, take it and read.”

Augustine got up and walked back inside toward his gaming table, where he had left a book that held a collection of the apostle Paul’s letters. He found Paul’s message to the Romans, and the result has been called “one of the most dramatic conversions to Christ ever recorded.”

Augustine was baptized and began to devote his time studying Scripture. While visiting a friend in the port town of Hippo, local church leadership pressed him into becoming a priest and taking on a congregation. Augustine was reluctant at first, but he eventually relented. He never moved again. After the local bishop's death, he took his place, and served this church faithfully until his death at age seventy-six.

It was in relationship with others, in the dirt of people's lives, that he wrote most of the works, including Confessions and The City of God, which would make him “the most influential theologian in the entire Latin-speaking church since New Testament times.”[iii]

Throughout his life Augustine searched for ways to satiate the deep longings of his soul. He spoke openly and honesty of his hedonistic quests and after his conversion, his continual yearning for a return to Eden.

This longing for things to be made right is an echo from eternity.

It’s a huge billboard sign. An important reminder.

We’re right to wish for more.

We’re right to search for answers to our questions.

We’re right to expect something beyond death.

We’re right to scream at its absence here on earth.

We’re right to weep over its delay.

It’s not only okay to have a longing for justice, pleasure, and fulfillment; it would be a tragedy to live without it.

You, God, are my God,

    earnestly I seek you;

I thirst for you,

    my whole being longs for you,

in a dry and parched land

    where there is no water.

[Psalm 63:1 NIV]

Where does this longing of the soul come from?

The allure of Divine Love.

What would it be like to simply live life loved?

 

[i] Mark DeVries, Kirk Freeman, Augustine's Confessions (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1998), 15.

[ii] Saint Augustine, F.J. Sheed, translator, Confessions, Second Edition, F (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2007), 37.

[iii] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), 247.

JacquiD