Confessions: Why Do You Follow Your Body?


Why, my soul, do you twist yourself around to follow your body? It should follow you now that you’ve turned to God.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 4.17


In clinging to God, we cling to what we love. Augustine has learned this principle through the loss of his friend. God does not lose those he loves, and when we cling to God, we take hold of not only him, but also those whom he loves. In the sight of eternity, we never lose those we love as long as we cling to God.


This is easy enough to rationalize but it is hard to live out because the senses want to attach themselves to physical things. “But don’t let me be glued firmly to them through the love the physical senses generate… [the soul] loves to rest, in the things it loves…” (4.14.5).


Speaking to himself, Augustine begs himself, “Don’t be empty air, my soul. Do not let your heart grow hard of hearing in the racket of your emptiness” (4.16.1). He begs himself to listen to the Word (Jesus) who shouts for the soul to return to God, where the soul can know calm and love. Only in resting in God and loving God can he avoid the needless sorrow of nihilism.


When we place ourselves for safekeeping in God, we won't lose anything. As Augustine states, “The things that have rotted in you will flower again, and all the afflictions that make you sluggish will be healed, and the things that are slack will be remade and renewed and hold together with you” (4.16.2).


The gift that God offers in place of sorrow is resurrection. In this way, our perishable desires must put on the imperishable, and our mortal body puts on immortality. As the Apostle Paul teaches “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:50-58).


This resurrection of our desires is grace. It is a grace that grants us the freedom to desire better things than what simply satisfies the senses. James K. A. Smith observes, “Grace isn’t just forgiveness, a coveting, an acquittal; it is an infusion, a transplant, a resurrection, a revolution of the will and wants. It’s the hand of a Higher Power that made you and loves you reaching into your soul with the gift of a new will. Grace is freedom.”[1]


I would ask my soul the same question Augustine did, “why do I twist myself around to follow my body?” Far better than my desire to satisfy my senses is the one who made everything and does not leave (ref 4.17.2).


Lord, give me strength to not follow my body. May my body follow me, now that I’ve turned to you.


[1] James K.A Smith, On The Road With Saint Augustine, 69-70.

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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