I hadn’t found fault with him, but you use everyone, those who know it and those who don’t, in an orderly plan that’s within your knowledge, and that plan is just. From my heart and my tongue you crafted burning coals with which to cauterize and heal that promising mind when it was being eaten away by this infection.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 6.12
Alypius was younger than Augustine and had studied under him in Thagaste and Carthage. In Carthage, because of a disagreement between Augustine and Alypius’ father, Alypius was pulled from Augustine’s classroom. During that time Alypius had developed a self-destructive infatuation with the games and time-wasting public entertainments. He wanted to reach out to pull him out but he was not sure if Alypius felt the same way about him as did his father.
Time passed and Augustine’s resolution to have a talk with him was lost. However, against his father’s wishes, Alypius began to attend Augustine’s lectures. Augustine describes how in one particular day, he came in, greeted him, and sat down to listen to the lecture. It happened, that on that day, he had an analogy to the games prepared that would aptly apply to the lesson of the day. He had not planned on his former student being present and had forgotten about his obsession. Because of this, Augustine was not kind or gentle with his analogy. He says, “I should sardonically deride people held captive to a crazed obsession with this pastime” (6.12.2).
Augustine had no notion of changing Alypius’ mind, but “he seized on my words and assumed that he was the target” (6.12.3). While others would have become angry toward their teacher, Alypius instead became angry toward himself.
Augustine had intended to reach out but did not; in fact, he had forgotten altogether (an experience I am all too familiar with). And by accident, Augustine was able to correct his former student. After a short stint as a Manichaean, Alypius would later become the bishop of their hometown Thagaste
Reflecting on this Augustine realizes how God works, he uses everyone to accomplish his purposes whether we know it or not. It is said that God uses those who are “willing” but according to Augustine God cannot always wait for us. While for us, our folly and rebellion is nothing but sand, God can trade our ashes for beauty to accomplish his purposes (Is 61:3). And he is working way before we choose to collaborate.
There is also another lesson here to be learned from Alypius. He proved himself to be wise not because he had made wise decisions, but because he loved his reproof. For it is written:
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.— Proverbs 9:8
Lord, thank you for using me for your glory. In Your mercy, continue to give me the grace to love my reproof that I may be wise.
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.