I promised myself I would post this blog on “The Will of Man In One Who Is Newly Saved” from “Confessions” by St. Augustine. (Title mine.) I read this yesterday (it’s an assignment for a class) and it described me completely–especially when it comes to issues of addiction and recovery. I was going to post the quote all at once, but I think I will post a part of it, then comment, then post another part, comment, and so on, on to the end.
The background is that St. Augustine had recently made his profession of faith in the Catholic Church, but was not yet baptized. He was struggling with his “two wills”: the one to do right and the one to continue living in sin and indulging in his lusts and desires of the flesh. Here he describes being bound by an “iron chain”, which is his own will:
“For this was what I was longing to do, but as yet I was bound by the iron chain of my own will. The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the reverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, as it were, forged together–which is why I called it a chain–a hard bondage held me in slavery. But that new will which had begun to spring up in me freely to worship you and to enjoy you, my God, the only certain joy, was not able as yet to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Thus my two wills–the old and the new, the carnal and the spiritual–were in conflict within me, and by their discord they tore my soul apart.”
I love what he has to say here. As Christians and addicts, or anyone else who struggles with bad habits and difficult behaviors, this pull in two different ways is of great conflict. Often in the beginning, pleasure is associated with the occasional use or light indulgence…and we begin to crave that good feeling more and more until we become quite used to it. Then, before we really realize what is happening, we begin to engage frequently or habitually to capture that good feeling or relief continually. We don’t want to be without it. The more and more we reinforce this habit, our dependence upon the behavior and pleasure grows to become necessary–and then the addiction is firmly in place and we are bound as “in chains.” It is at this point that we either seek out help, or feel ourselves as lost causes, hopeless and helpless, and give in to the necessity on a continual and regular basis, grounding it into our very being. This realization is debilitating and it rips apart our soul.
“Thus I came to understand from my own experience what I had read, how “the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” (Galatians 5:17) I truly lusted both ways, yet more in that which I approved in myself than in that which I disapproved in myself. For in the latter it was not now really I that was involved, because here I was rather an unwilling sufferer than a willing actor. And yet it was through me that habit had become an armed enemy against me, because I had willingly come to be what I unwillingly found myself to be. Who, then can with any justice speak against it, when just punishment follows the sinner? I had now no longer my accustomed excuse that, as yet, I hesitated to give up the world and serve you because my perception of the truth was uncertain. For now it was certain. But, still bound to the earth, I refused to be your soldier; and was as much afraid of being freed from all entanglements as we ought to fear to be entangled.”
Excellent description of the superiority of the Christian life and the results it produces in a person. The lust became habit, the habit became necessity, and the necessity bound our souls in chains, and we know this in the depths of our being–that a war is being waged inside of us, as well as in the flesh–for where does this war take place but in our bodies, which are in the world? But, if we are saved in Jesus Christ, and in his Church, then we know that the longing we have to be good is little by little stronger than the longing to sin, and we have, through Christ, power to resist the sin and favor the holy. In the war being waged, we are at this point, less willing participants than casualties of warfare–the war, of course, between Jesus and Satan, between God and the devil. But we who are believers know in our hearts who wins this war and is the ultimate victor of life. Yet we carry with us the fact that was our OWN SELVES who put ourselves into this position by the process referred above. And so the result being only the just punishment of a completely just and holy God, for He does not discriminate in his punishments to discipline His children. This, of course, is where Jesus Christ steps in, for he and only he makes atonement for our sins, and appeases the wrath of God. At any rate, by this time in our Christian walk our perception of the truth had changed or was still in the process of change; nevertheless, changing it was, and we are of two desires: to give up that weakness of sin, or to move on to rational and holy behavior. See the next quote for the apt description of “the baggage of the world.”
Thus with the baggage of the world I was sweetly burdened, as one in slumber, and my musings on you were like the efforts of those who desire to awake, but who are still overpowered with drowsiness and fall back into deep slumber. And as no one wishes to sleep forever (for all men rightly count waking better)–yet a man will usually defer shaking off his drowsiness when there is a heavy lethargy in his limbs, and he is glad to sleep on even when his reason disapproves, and the hour for rising has struck–so was I assured that it was much better for me to give myself up to your love than to go on yielding myself to my own lust. Your love satisfied and vanquished me, my lust pleased and fettered me. I had no answer to your calling to me, “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14) On all sides, you showed me that your words are true, and I convicted by the truth, had nothing at all to reply but the drawling and drowsy words: “Presently; see, presently. Leave me alone a little while.” But “presently, presently,” had no present and my “leave me alone a little while” went on for a long while. In vain did I “delight in your law in the inner man” while “another law in my members warred against the law of my mind and brought me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” For the law of sin is the tyranny of habit, by which the mind is drawn and held, even against its will. Yet it deserves to be so held because it so willingly falls into the habit. “Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death” but your grace alone, through Jesus Christ our Lord? (Romans 7:22-25)
This, the conclusion of my quotes, describes nicely how we put off making the right choices and doing the right thing–making the decisions that would bring us profit, for we are lazy and used to living in our sin. For, using the description of the sleepy man, isn’t the man who hesitates to wake up and put off his getting up, counted in a sense, as lazy? He is allured still by the delight of sleep, and we are allured still by the delight of sin–even if at times we dread ourselves and our behavior. Habit firmly placed, as a tree in the ground is difficult to uproot, and it is only through the strength of the Lord we can truly choose the right. For our procrastination would have no end, except long after we had anticipated; our “presently presently” is actually, “not yet, not yet.” Our minds, which delight in the law of the Lord, are situated directly opposite from the hearts, which are stuck on the world, both with equal, or nearly equal strength and influence. But we can take assurance and comfort from the fact that we HAVE a savior, the man Jesus Christ, who strengthens us and brings deliverance to those who sincerely seek the Lord. Also, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6.) Let us therefore then, go fully and wholeheartedly unto the Lord, for “No man, having put his hand to the plough and look back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9)
And so ends my meditation. What do you think?