Confessions: Its Own Punishment


But you, who know the number of hairs on our heads, put to use the wrongheaded pressure everyone was putting on me to learn, and turned it to true utility for me…This is your command, and it is carried out in full, that every mind not conforming to your law is its own punishment.— Saint Augustine, Confessions 1.19


Many times, I have searched my soul in order to understand myself. What do I find? I find deep sadness, regret, remorse, anger, envy, desire, and other related feelings, vices, and curses. In 2018 I injured my AC joint on my left shoulder. The injury has healed, but I have a permanent weakness and ache. I can exercise and use my arms freely, but not to the extent that I could before. This is how my past sins feel. Although my soul is healed, forgiven, and adopted into the family of God, the wounds of my sins linger in my soul like an ache of a past injury.


Though years have passed, my imagination still conjures and desires what it knows hurt it. I both hunger and dread for what throws my soul into despair. I stand at the door of my soul amazed at how the impermanence of many pleasures causes permanent harm. Just as Augustine notes, “every mind not conforming to your law is its own punishment.” Meditating on the new heavens and new earth described in Revelation 21 Ellen White wrote, “One reminder alone remains: Our Redeemer will ever bear the marks of His crucifixion. Upon His wounded head, upon His side, His hands, and feet, are the only traces of the cruel work that sin has wrought.”[1] If Christ can bear the wounds on my sins into eternity, I can bear the wounds on my sins in this life. That in His mercy, He may turn these wounds into “true utility for me.” I can only hope that the aches of my past may become wisdom for me. That the promise of YHWH through the prophet Isaiah may be fulfilled in me:


The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

—Isaiah 61:1-3


Lord, my sins have been their own punishment. In your wisdom, may my wounds become utility for me.


[1] The Great Controversy, 651-652. 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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