Sin’s Disruption and Disordered Love: Insights from St. Augustine

image 1 - Adam and EveWhen Adam and Eve turn from God and His will by choosing for themselves and their own will, they were in essence choosing to love themselves over God. Sin can be both the decision for and experience of disordered love.

Saint Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of Hippo in present-day Algeria, described this reality when he wrote: “virtue is nothing other than perfect love of God” (On the Morals of the Catholic Church, XV.25) Augustine is telling us that the good life – the virtuous life – is formed around well-ordered love of God. 

In light of that well-ordered love of God we learn to love everything else, whether people or things. He writes:

though [something] is good, it can be loved in the right way or in the wrong way – in the right way, that is, when the proper order is kept, in the wrong way when that order is upset. (City of God, XV.22)

This helps us to understand what happens to our love through the Fall.

It is dislocated from its proper center in love for God, and then, being out of order, it leads us to love people and things in wrong ways. And so, impacted by sin, we try to love things in ways that do not give us life:

  • A father tries to feel love and acceptance in life through others’ acclamations of his child’s athletic accomplishments 
  • A daughter tries to receive love from her mother by always doing the right thing or pursuing goals her mother likes but the daughter does not
  • A man tries to feel loved through serial sexual experiences with others but finds intimacy and love elusive
  • A woman escapes an unhappy marriage through an emotional affair but still fees empty

The catalog of ways we experience disordered love could go on and on. It is because love is disordered that the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 are so powerful and praised: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast.” The very fact that this passage is so revered tells us just how special – and perhaps rare – ordered and right love truly is.

But it is not only that we love things wrongly in our Fallen state. We also, apart from God, evaluate love wrongly in ways that reveal our utter disorder:

  • someone’s love for sports overruns their priorities and ruins their marriage
  • someone’s love for their work becomes obsessive, ruining the family they are trying to support with that work
  • someone’s love for interacting with others on social media loses all bounds, ruining their actual face-to-face friendships 

As Augustine writes elsewhere, real love knows how “to love things…in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less” (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28).

This attention to disordered love is foundational to our discussion about the ways in which we experience disorder in our sexuality and our bodies because, as Jesus says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). That is, our outer life of action flows from the inner life of the heart and its related desires. Or, as Jamie Smith says, “you are what you love.”

We were made by God for loving relationship with God and others, but the Fall sunders that relationship and creates disorder in love.

God made us with the creational good of love to sustain and hold together every aspect of our identity, including our sexuality and bodies. But sin dislocates us, leaving us confused and muddled in the way we love things. All of this has tremendous impact for our bodies and our sexuality.

[This blog post is excerpted from my message, “Fall and Embodied Sexuality.”]

Fall and Embodied Sexuality

Love Sex Body Series GFX-05I continued our series, “Love-Sex-Body: Toward a Biblical Theology of Embodied Sexuality,” this past weekend at at Eastbrook Church by turning to the second chapter of God’s Good Story: the Fall from grace.

This message draws primarily from Genesis 3 and Romans 1, with a smattering of other verses throughout. This is, in my opinion, perhaps the most challenging of all the messages in this series for a few reasons. First, it addresses how sin leaves us with disordered love, sexuality, and bodies in very different ways. Second, it can in some ways be the most painful and apparently hopeless weeks of the series, leaving us in the Fall without the grace of redemption. However, I still believe that taking in this part of the series is vital for our healing. Like a good surgeon gives us an honest diagnosis, God provides a clear appraisal of our fallenness in Scripture. Recognizing it and believing it are the first steps toward healing.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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The Weekend Wanderer: 4 May 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Martin Buber“Modernity, Faith, and Martin Buber” – I don’t remember when it was, but as a young man preparing for ministry there was a season where I seemed to encounter references to certain books over and over again. One of those was Martin Buber’s I and Thou, which continues to sit on my shelf today ever since I first read it years ago. Buber is an interesting combination of innovative modernist philosopher and ardent Jewish thinker. Adam Kirsch offers a reappraisal of Buber and the ongoing significance of his thought in The New Yorker, which is well worth the read.

 

synagogue shootingSynagogue Shooting in California – So much to say about this, but let me share two articles that I found thought-provoking. The first is Carl Trueman’s “Who’s to Blame When the Shooter Is One of Our Own?” in Christianity Today, which considers in depth what this means for us as Christians today.  The second is David Brooks’ exploration of the pervasive culture of fear that grips us in his opinion piece, “An Era Defined by Fear.” I offered my own brief response, “Six Pastoral Reflections on the California Synagogue Shooting,” this past Wednesday.

 

89918“Augustine, Son of Her Tears” – A thoroughly North African developed version of St. Augustine’s life has come to the screen. You can watch the trailer here and read a review of the film by Christianity Today as well as a few other sources here and here. This looks fascinating, as someone interested particularly in the history of North African Christianity. I am inquiring about how to view the movie directly and look forward to finding out more information soon.

 

90263“The Rise of Conversational Churches” – Anyone familiar with C. Christopher Smith and his work with the slow church movement or The Englewood Review of Books, will enjoy reading this article based on his recent book, How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church. “In this age of social media, it is widely accepted that we don’t know how to talk together—and especially with those whose perspective differs greatly from our own….Amid these widespread failures of conversation, some churches across North America are devoting themselves to learning the practice of conversation, among their members and with their neighbors.”

 

les murray

“Les Murray, poet and ‘gentle titan of Australian letters’, dies aged 80” – Les Murray has been one of the finest poetic voices in English during our generation. I’ve enjoyed his works tremendously, and I know that I’m not alone in that. It was with sadness that I heard of Murray’s passing. “Les Murray, a distinguished figure of Australian letters, has died at the age of 80 on Monday after a long illness. One of Australia’s most successful and renowned contemporary poets, Murray’s career spanned more than 40 years. He published close to 30 books, including most recently a volume of collected works through Black Inc.” You might also enjoy David Mason’s essay, “Les Murray, Dissident Poet,” in First Things.

 

Griswold-GunReformPennsylvania-2“God, Guns, and Country: The Evangelical Fight Over Firearms” – “The next morning, before leaving on their trip, Claiborne and Martin kneeled on the sidewalk in Kensington next to their mobile forge, among a pile of guns that they’d collected from neighbors or found in abandoned homes. Martin was sawing an AK-47 in half, and preparing to turn it into a mattock—an old-fashioned hoe with prongs on one side, which is used for breaking up clods of earth. He had grown up in a conservative evangelical church in Colorado. “It was very much God, guns, and country,’ he said. But in college he’d decided to return to his family’s Mennonite roots—a tradition that emphasizes nonviolence. With the help of a metalworker in Colorado, he had taught himself the rudiments of blacksmithing. Martin picked up the barrel of the AK-47 with a pair of long steel tongs and placed it into the forge until it softened and glowed a molten red.”

 

_106638359_65c8f2db-b008-41af-83e3-8d40fcc90a41“Burkina Faso: Christians killed in attack on church” – “Gunmen have opened fire on a church in northern Burkina Faso, killing at least six people, officials say. The attackers reportedly arrived on seven motorbikes at the end of Sunday’s service and killed the pastor, two of his sons and three other worshippers. It is the first attack on a church since jihadist violence erupted in the West African country in 2016. Fighters affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group as well as the local Ansarul Islam have been active.”

 

Music: Recomposed by Max Richter – Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, 1. Spring

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

St Augustine on the Word of God

Augustine of Hippo.jpgHere is St. Augustine, reflecting on the uniqueness of the Word made flesh in his book, Confessions VII.9:

So you made use of a man, one who was bloated with the most outrageous pride, to procure me some of the books of the Platonists, translated from the Greek into Latin. In them I read ­– not, of course, word for word, though the sense was the same and it was supported by all kinds of different arguments – that  at the beginning of time the Word already was; and God had the Word abiding with him, and the Word was God. He abode, at the beginning of time, with God. It was through him that all things came into being, and without him came nothing that has come to be. In him there was life, and that life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness, a darkness which was not able to mater it. I read too that the soul of man, although it bears witness of the light, is not the Light. But the Word, who is himself God, is the true Light, which enlightens every soul born into the world. He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and the world treated him as a stranger. But I did not find it written in those books that he came to what was his own, and they who were his own gave him no welcome. But all those who did welcome him he empowered to become the children of God, all those who believe in his name.

In the same books I also read of the Word, God, that his birth came not from human stock, not from nature’s will or man’s, but from God. But I did not read in them that the Word was made flesh and came to dwell among us.

From Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961), 144-145.

All Saints’ Day: A Celebration

fullsizeoutput_ae3.jpegToday, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. What is All Saints’ Day and why should we celebrate it?

Since the 4th century, Christians have celebrated the lives of saints and martyrs. However, it was not until AD 609 that Pope Boniface IV dedicated one day of remembrance for all martyrs. Since that time, and after a broadening by Pope Gregory IV in 837 into a celebration of all past saints, All Saints’ Day has been a solemn holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, often connected with reverence for past Christians and relics.  While often criticized for idolatrous veneration of departed Christians, even after the Reformation, most Protestants continued to celebrate All Saints’ Day as a way to connect God’s faithfulness to His people in times past with God’s faithfulness to His people now.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us through what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” We hear of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Rahab — all of whom faithfully walked through their ups-and-downs with God. The first words of chapter 12 take a sudden turn to the present: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The lives of great heroes of the faith are celebrated as an inspiration for the Christians listening in the present moment, that they too might live with God faithfully in their everyday lives.

I love that phrase: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Those witnesses are the believers in God that have gone before us. They bear witness to us that there is a way to live faithfully with God upon earth now even as they also bear witness that there is future hope with God beyond our earthly lives. Although it may sound strange to our ears, all past believers are ‘saints’ in that they are ‘holy ones’ (the literal translation of the Greek word hagioi) through Jesus Christ. All Saints’ Day brings to the foreground the spiritual bond that exists between believers from all times and in all places. More specifically, All Saints’ Day highlights the connection between the saints who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) and the saints still upon this earthly plane (sometimes called “the Church militant”). We celebrate those who have gone before us so that we might be encouraged to run the race before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

In a culture dominated by the ever-pressing latest and greatest that is new and now, All Saints’ Day is a powerful corrective. It reminds that we are an important part of God’s story, but we are not the only part of the story. When we celebrate the saints of previous times we realize that we would not be here were it not for Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, David, Esther, Isaiah, Mary, and so many more.

In a culture that is obsessed with our present opinions about our present matters, All Saints’ Day offers us perspective. It helps us grow beyond “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” to steal a phrase from G. K. Chesterton. We reconnect with Catherine of Siena and Augustine of Hippo, with Perpetua of Carthage and Janani Luwum of Uganda, with Sojourner Truth and Blaise Pascal. We need them; perhaps even more than we know.

In a culture that has forgotten how to think about the future, All Saints’ Day reminds us to have hope of a future day. Since there are saints who have gone before us, we can persevere now as saints upon earth. Jesus Himself told us that He is preparing a place for us and, as John testifies, there will be a great company there of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation around God’s throne celebrating in God’s eternal kingdom.

By God’s grace, we, too, will join that great company. But until we do, we celebrate God’s faithfulness in their lives as a means to lean into God’s faithfulness in our own lives as persevering pilgrims in this land that is not our home.

St. Augustine on Overcoming Temptation

Saint_Augustine_PortraitHere St. Augustine of Hippo comments on Psalm 61:1-2, reflecting on the reality that Christ was tempted in the wilderness to show us how to overcome temptation and trials.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

 

Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer. Who is speaking? An individual, it seems. See if it is an individual: I cried out to you from the ends of the earth while my heart was in anguish. Now it is no longer one person; rather, it is one in the sense that Christ is one, and we are all his members. What single individual can cry from the ends of the earth? The one who cries from the ends of the earth is none other than the Son’s inheritance. It was said to him: Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession. This possession of Christ, this inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity that we are, cries from the ends of the earth. What does it cry? What I said before: Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer; I cried out to you from the ends of the earth.  That is, I made this cry to you from the ends of the earth; that is, on all sides.

Why did I make this cry? While my heart was in anguish. The speaker shows that he is present among all the nations of the earth in a condition, not of exalted glory but of severe trial.

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.

The one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own. Christ chose to foreshadow us, who are his body, by means of his body, in which he has died, risen and ascended into heaven, so that the members of his body may hope to follow where their head has gone before.

He made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. We have heard in the gospel how the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.

If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

[Source: Commentary on the Psalms Ps. 60, 2-3: CCL 39, 766]