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Confessions: I Thought All This Through

“I thought all this through, and you were with me; I sighed, and you heard me; the waves tossed me, and you steered; I walked on the worldly wide road, and you didn’t abandon me.” —Saint Augustine, Confessions 6.8

Augustine was attracted to the teaching of Christianity, but he was hesitant because he wanted to be as certain about the things he couldn’t see as he was “certain that seven plus three makes ten” (6.6.3). The idea of accepting certain doctrines on the basis of faith troubled him because the Manicheans encouraged him to do the same with their nonsense. According to Augustine, the Manicheans asked their converts to have faith “because they couldn’t be proved” (6.7.1). In this way, they made a joke of their new recruit's trust! Augustine compares himself to a sick man who could be healed but does not trust good doctors because of a terrible experience with bad doctors. “It certainly couldn’t be healed without belief, but for fear of believing something false, it refused to be treated…” (6.6.4).

After much thought, Augustine considered how there were “things beyond counting that I believed without seeing them, or having been there when they were happening” (6.7.2). There were events in history he had not yet been born to witness, and cities and lands he had not seen yet he believed. There were innumerable things that he took by faith from friends, doctors, and strangers, that would he not, life would be unbearable. He finally considered “how fixed and unshakable” his faith was about who his parents were. A fact that he admits is impossible for him to know except by believing it by faith (Ibid).

In stark contrast to many Christians today, Augustine became attracted to the church for its refusal to offer "proof" of its doctrines. He was not a victim of post-enlightenment Christianity’s addiction to certainty and proof. Both Manicheans and the Christians encouraged their people to have faith, but the difference was the requirement of proof and certainty. The Manicheans made faith claims and tried to prove the metaphysical. Christians on the other hand made faith claims but did not try to prove them. Augustine found their modesty attractive and accepted the idea that faith, not reason, is the basis for true knowledge.

Augustine realized that faith cannot and should not be proved. How could he prove that it was God who had healed his soul? His healing was not proof, it was anecdotal. Yet, he could not deny what his soul knew but could not prove.

And if he did try to prove it, what kind of arguments could he make? None that were rational or scientific. He would have to lower himself to be just like the Manicheans. As Andy Mineo said in his song, Clarity, “The opposite of faith ain't doubt, it's when I get it all figured out.”

Augustine was fine to accept the Word of God by faith, not proof. Why? because there was no other way. In fact, there is no other way. We do not need evidence for what the soul knows but cannot prove.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”—Hebrews 11:1

“The righteous will live by faith.”— Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38

Living Word, give me peace with what my soul knows, that I may live by faith.

Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.


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