This is a follow-up to my post written two weeks ago, entitled Defenders of the Faith, which was our first look at one of the greatest defenders of the faith, St. Augustine, from his book The City of God. It was written at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire – both to strengthen the faith of the Christians within Rome and the immediate vicinity, and to help them find answers to why they suffered the experience of oppression by that same imperium.
Augustine often writes in a series of questions that had concerned those of faith, as well as expositions against the Romans’ behaviors towards the believers. Many of these topics are just as germane today as they were then.
One question, for example, was the fate of the souls of Christian women that were raped by either the Romans or the barbarian conquerors. Obviously, the answer to this would be timeless – applying to anyone forced to commit an immoral act. Augustine answered it thusly:
…the virtue which makes the life good has its throne in the soul, and thence rules the members of the body, which becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will; and that while the will remains firm and unshaken, nothing that another person does with the body, or upon the body, is any fault of the person who suffers it, so long as he cannot escape it without sin.
…the sanctity of the body is preserved, because the will to use it holily, remains…
“Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or were the upright ever cut off?” Job 4:7 NKJV
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors though Him who loved us. Rm. 8:35 – 37. NKJV
We are innocent of anything we are forced to do against our will. Our soul remains pure in this trauma, separate from the flesh. Furthermore, there is no one who can stand up to He who lives in us, and He brings no charges against us.
In addition, according to Augustine, there were Christians that were so afraid of being violated in any manner by the pagans, that they would take their own lives so that they would remain ‘pure’ in the eyes of God. BIG MISTAKE. Augustine elucidates:
…he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offense for which he doomed himself to die.
He gives the example of Judas, who after hanging himself, had removed any chance for repentance, and thus was doomed to eternal death. Augustine then reminds his audience that there is nowhere in the entire Bible where they are given a license to kill themselves. Indeed, it is a violation of the 6th of the Ten Commandments, that one of against committing murder, as he explains:
The commandment is, “Thou shalt not kill man;” therefore, neither another or yourself, for he who kills himself still kills nothing else but man…those who die by their own hand have no better life after death.
You cannot sin to avoid sinning…
Augustine continues to a new question by writing about pagans who ask the Christians why their God doesn’t rescue them from oppression.
Sometimes life is hard. Many times we can’t explain it. That’s usually because we can’t see God’s big picture. But we can take comfort in knowing that He will deliver His faithful children out of their trials within the framework of His right timing:
And we know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Rm. 8:28 NLT
Augustine also explains to believers how to answer the scoffers when their life conditions are less than stellar:
The whole family of God, most high and most true, has therefore a consolation of its own – a consolation which cannot deceive, and which has in it a surer hope that the tottering and falling affairs of earth can afford. They will not refuse the discipline of this temporal life, in which they are schooled for life eternal; nor will they lament their experience of it, for the good things of earth they use as pilgrims who ate not detained by them, and its ills either prove or improve them.
You know that people who sin, love to have others sin with them – primarily for self-justification. That’s exactly what’s at the root of the Roman unbelievers’ line of questioning, trying to get the Christians to turn their backs on their faith, and join in with their licentious behavior. Augustine calls them out on it:
…why in your calamities do you complain of Christianity, unless because you desire to enjoy your luxurious license unrestrained, and to lead an abandoned and profligate life without the interruption of any uneasiness or disaster…your purpose rather is run riot in an endless variety of sottish pleasures, and thus to generate from your prosperity a moral pestilence which will prove a thousand fold more disastrous than our fiercest of enemies.
And yet, Augustine finishes by saying that God is still waiting for them to come to Him:
And that you are yet alive is due to God, who spares you that you may be admonished to repent and reform your lives.
Isn’t that God’s plea to everyone?
Augustine then reminds the Romans that Rome was beginning to crumble long before Christ was incarnated. Afterwards, he picks on their many ‘gods’ that never held their worshippers to higher moral values, never extolled virtue, and likened them to Greek philosophers, of whom he said:
…the teachings of the philosophers are not the commandments of gods, but the discoveries of men…
Here, then, is this Roman republic, “which has changed little by little from the faith and virtuous city it was, and has become utterly wicked and dissolute.” (He is quoting an author who wrote about Rome long before Christ’s coming.)
Then, Augustine contrasts the sorry state of Rome with the kingdom of God:
…true justice has no existence save in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ…the city of which Holy Scripture says, “Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God.” (Ps. 87:3)
In addition, he pulls no punches with respect to who the ‘gods’ are that the Romans worship:
as Scripture informs us, and as the facts themselves sufficiently indicate, the demons are found to look after their own ends only, that they may be regarded and worshiped as gods, and that men may be induced to offer to them a worship which associated them with their crimes, and involves them in one common wickedness and judgment of God.
And yet, Augustine doesn’t forget His Christian duty to evangelize, even to lost souls such as these:
Choose now what you will pursue, that your praise may not be in yourself, but in the true God, in whom there is no error…Do not listen to those degenerate sons of yours who slander Christ and Christians…Lay hold now on the celestial country, which is easily won, and in which you will reign truly and forever…No longer then, follow after false and deceitful gods…Gods they are not, but malignant spirits…Awake more fully: the majesty of God cannot be propitiated by that which defiles the dignity of man…Incomparably more glorious than Rome is that heavenly city in which for victory you have truth; for dignity, holiness; for peace, felicity; for life, eternity.
Wow. What can we take from this? First, there is evil in the world, and it uses people (who are willing), to do us harm. If that harm is forced upon us, and it transgresses the word of God, our integrity is not broken in His eyes. The forceful perpetrator however, has a really heavy price to pay:
“But whoever causes on of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he drowned in the depths of the sea.” Mt. 18:6 NKJV
God is our judge. We do our best to live by His word. We have the blood of Jesus that cleanses us. If we fall into the muck because of our own devices, we can confess and repent. Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away. We don’t ever have to live in shame.
We know that life has its knocks. But if we have faith, God is making all the right decisions for us. As long as we’re walking on God’s path, He is bringing us to an eternal perfection, the potential of which, we can share with anyone else who has yet to understand the promise of the kingdom.
We can make our faith and faith-based behavior inspirational to those who have yet to grab a hold of the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, and we must be willing to share His promise of salvation, even to the most worldly-seasoned people – remembering that we all once walked that road…
Goodnight and God bless.