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Confessions: Farther And Farther From You

Your anger exercised its power over me, but I didn’t know it. The screeching chain of my deathly nature, the punishment for my soul’s arrogance, had deafened me, and I made my way farther and farther from you, and you let me.

I was storm-tossed, gushing out, running every which way, frothing into thin air in my filthy affairs—and you said nothing. Oh, you my joy were long in coming! You said nothing back then, and on I went, far away from you, sowing more and more seed that grew nothing but grief. This was the insolence of my humiliation and the restlessness of my slacking.— Saint Augustine, Confessions 2.2

When people are determined to rebel, how does God respond? Does he hold on tightly? Does he speak up immediately and try to pull us back? Does he scold us? According to Paul, God gives us over to sinful desires (Rom 1:24). What else can God do to help those who have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie”? (Rom 1:25) As I write this, there are a large number of Christians who have been deceived by conspiracy theories who, no matter how much proof you give them, will not be shaken from their conspiracies.

On March 12, 2021, Albert Samaha wrote a piece for BuzzFeed News about his journey with his mother who had fallen for QAnon conspiracy theories. He wrote:

“I wish I could offer some evidence showing that the gulf between us might be narrowing, that my love, persistence, and collection of facts might be enough to draw her back into a reality we share, and that when our wager about the storm comes due in a few months, she’ll realize that the voices she trusts have been lying to her. But I don’t think that will happen… What can I do but try to limit the damage?... I no longer inhabit the delusion that our divergence is temporary.”[1]

The sad truth is that no one ever changed their minds because they lost an argument. And no amount of proof will convince someone who has believed a lie that they are wrong. In the same way that Albert has handed his mother over to the conspiracy theories, God has handed us over to the lies we have believed; he has handed us over to our sins. While it may seem loveless to abandon someone to their darkness, Paul sees Gods wisdom in the act: “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:5)

Our impulse is to hold on for dear life. But do you really have someone if you are holding them against their will? What good is it if a person is not in physical rebellion but their heart is in rebellion? Sure they are in the church, but their soul is in hell. God’s wisdom says “if you let them go, there is a greater chance for their souls to be saved.”

Augustine reflects on how this is exactly how God saved him. As his soul moved further and further away, God allowed him to drift and remained silent. But God was “long in coming.” Yes God wanted to save him, but letting him drift was the only way. Because once a lie has been believed, no amount of truth will convince the deceived. At that point the only way to expose a lie, is to allow the lie to expose itself.

And when the deceived snap out it, they see how lost they are. Far from shore, far from safety, the Holy one of Israel speaks:

“For a long time I have kept silent,

I have been quiet and held myself back.

But now, like a woman in childbirth,

I cry out, I gasp and pant.

I will lay waste the mountains and hills

and dry up all their vegetation;

I will turn rivers into islands

and dry up the pools.

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

I will not forsake them.

But those who trust in idols,

who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’

will be turned back in utter shame.

—Isaiah 42:14-17

Lord, keep me in your truth that you may never let me go.

[1] Samaha, Albert, My Mom Believes In QAnon. I’ve Been Trying To Get Her Out., Buzzfeed News.

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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