Augustine tried to cast his cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:6–7), and it didn’t work. That happens all the time with us as well. We ask Jesus to take away our miseries, worries, and despair and nothing happens, so we move on to other strategies. Augustine, however, learned that the problem was with him.
Thou [God] wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou were not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God. If I offered to discharge my load thereon, that it might rest, it glided through the void and came rushing down again on me.¹
Augustine’s god was not God. Augustine had left the church in the midst of his doubts. He was charmed by the Manicheans and what seemed to be their more sophisticated search for truth. Essential to this search was an answer to the problem and presence of evil. Augustine’s god was confined by the physical world—in creation rather than over it. He was at odds with the equally powerful evil in the world, so there could be no hope for justice and final victory. The evil in humanity reflected this stand-off between good and evil. Since this evil was outside of us, there was nothing for us to do except passively accept its presence.
To live with this god became too much for Augustine to bear, and the lack of integrity among the Manichean enlightened began to expose a system that was shallow and farcical. Augustine could no longer run from the true and solid God.
Now, through his Confessions, Augustine asks us if our God is solid. Are we confused by the apparently unchecked evil around us? Is God strong enough to rest in? Is he the Holy One, with no worthy competitors, to whom we submit? Sadly, our answers, though not all-out Manichean, tend to be a blend of Scripture, ad-libs, and perhaps a few accusations. Doubts are inevitable, but they come from us, not from our God.
My god is not always solid, but my God has been. One of those solid times was during what felt like a particularly perilous moment. Jesus rescued me through very simple spiritual realities: God is great and strong; I am a sinner completely forgiven and loved (Psalms 62:11-12). My God was over all rather than in a win-some-lose-some battle. My sins were the only thing that could keep me from his protection. But in Christ I have been forgiven, and so nothing could separate me from him.
Apart from these realities, our god will be a mere wisp who is more conjured genie than Holy One. This is an inviolable rule.
The psalmist could rest in his God because “with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4). Paul, after considering the groaning of life, has this as his comfort. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). Forgiveness of sins is a sure way into an accurate knowledge of God.
For me, at least at that moment, my forgiveness through Jesus Christ led me into God’s greatness. All that came from my mouth was, “God is God, and I trust him.” In this simple response, little did I realize that I had answered the Manichean heresy that can still afflict us. Augustine would have been pleased, and I had the privilege of knowing the One who is solid.
¹The Confessions of St. Augustine (Pocket Books: New York, 1951), 52.