Confessions: Flattened to the Earth and Smashed to Pieces
They can go ahead and laugh at me, all those insolent people not yet flattened to the earth and smashed to pieces in wholesome fashion by you, my God, but for my part I want to plead to my humiliations because they glorify you. I beg you, let me, through today’s memories, tour the detours of my bygone wrongheadedness and slaughter for you a victim, which is the gift of my rejoicing. For what was my self to my self without you, if not a guide over the edge of the chasm? Or what am I, doing well, but a suckling of your milk, enjoying you, the food that doesn’t go bad? And who is a human being, anyone at all, as long as he’s just a human being as such? Robust, powerful personages can laugh at us in our weakness and poverty; we will testify to you.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 4.1
Augustine felt confident in both his Roman education (which was ‘fit for a free man”) and his Manichaean education (which was forbidden by the Roman state). He had the best the Empire had to offer and, from his perspective, what the Empire withheld from him. He and his friends impressed people in the theatre with their high intellect, learning, poetry, literary Olympiads, and pageants.
But Augustine found himself “flattened” and “smashed to pieces” by God. In a Roman culture that did not value the faith of Christians, you can see how Augustine would have seemed like a fool who was duped by the Christians. Maybe he was not so smart after all. How could a man who had the best of Rome and Gnosticism be captured by Christ? The perception of Christ had not changed from the time of Paul, the gospel still seemed like foolishness to the Romans and the Greeks (1 Cor 1:18). But Augustine welcomed the humiliation.
For what is humiliation but perception? Why should he care if he is laughed at by so-called “enlightened people” who have not been enlightened? From Augustine’s perspective, it is the Roman and Gnostic who should feel humiliated.
Weakness and poverty are not the lowly states to dread but the place where the power of God is found. But pomp, pride, and arrogance are the sinfully deceptive positions of power that God can easily flatten and crush. Who should be humiliated? The lowly person who stands next to God or the one exalted person who can be easily flattened and crushed? I say the latter.
We say with Augustine, “Robust, powerful personages can laugh at us in our weakness and poverty; we will testify to you." For all of us who have given our allegiance to the Holy One of Israel at one point were brought low. We know what it means to be “flattened to the earth and smashed to pieces” in a wholesome fashion by God.
Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”—John 6:27
Lord, In your wholesome fashion, flatted me to the earth and crush me to pieces that my life may glorify you.
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.