02 May 2012

Understanding the Almighty

Augustine comes as close as anyone in writing down what the Almighty is really like. This is not a trivial task! Read this extract from his 'Confessions' and see how he uses paradoxes to crack open our minds to see.

Portrait of AugustineJob found it was hard to truly know Yahweh. How can anyone know the creator of the universe? We can't - unless he reveals himself.

'Then Yahweh spoke to Job out of the storm. He said, "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer. Where were you when I laid the Earth's foundation? Tell me if you understand..."' (Job 38:1-41:34)

The following text is a translation from Augustine of Hippo. It was written at or just before the year 400 AD when Augustine was in his mid forties; he manages to convey something of the nature of the Almighty. It's the first chapter from Augustine's 'Confessions' and has the title 'Confession of the Greatness of God'.

I have based it on 'The Confessions of St Augustine: Modern English Version'*, rewritten as a light paraphrase in my own words. I hope it will be easy to read and understand.

As you read it, notice the way Augustine uses phrases like 'always busy but always at rest' or 'you pay debts when you owe nothing but in paying them you lose nothing'. By hinting at Yahweh's impossible behaviours he opens our minds to the flavour and aroma of his nature.

You are incomparable Yahweh!

So our praise of you has to be higher than our human nature.

Your power is magnificent.

Your wisdom is limitless.

We, such lowly beings, want to praise you. What is a human being, just a tiny speck of the universe you made. Every one of us contains the evidence of approaching death. Our short lifespans speak of our sinfulness and spell out to creation that you reject pride.

But although we are so lowly we desire to praise you, even though we are just a minute fragment of this universe. You arouse in us delight in your praise. You created us for yourself and our heart can't rest except in you.

Please, Lord. Let us know what comes first. Is it that we must cry out to you first before we can praise you? Must we call out to you before we can comprehend you? But who can call on you without knowing you first? If I don't know you I might not understand who you are.

Or, do we call on you in order to know you? Romans 10:14 says, 'How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone telling them?'

So we know those that search for the Lord will praise him because those who search will find him and those who find will praise him. I'll seek you by calling out to you. I'll call on you with faith that really knows you, because you've been explained to me. My faith will call on you, Lord, the faith you gave to me. You breathed life into me by faith through the birth of your Son and his word as the One who explains you.

Who is Yahweh but Yahweh?

Who is Elohim but Elohim?

The Most High, the best, the most powerful and omnipotent, merciful but just, hidden yet present with us, most beautiful yet also most strong.

You're still - but you're incomprehensibly active. You can't change - but you change everything. You're never new but you're never old. You make everything new but defeat the proud with old age, even before they see it coming. You are always busy but always at rest. You continue to gather although you don't need a thing! You support, fill and spread. You create, feed and bring maturity. You go on searching although you already have everything.

Your love is not yearning, your jealousy is not bitter, you regret with us but don't reproach yourself, in your anger you remain calm.

Everyone else fails to complete their plans but your purpose is steady. You receive what you found but hadn't lost. You have no needs but rejoice in what you gain. You're not grasping but you require excessive payments so that you can be in debt. But there's nothing we can give that isn't already yours! You pay debts when you owe nothing but in paying them you lose nothing.

What have I managed to say, my Mighty One, my life, my holy joy? What can any mere human say about you? But woe to anyone who doesn't speak because silence is very eloquent.

I want to rest in you. I want you to come into my heart like strong wine so that I forget all my anxiety and fully accept you, the only good in my life.

What do you mean to me? Help me out in expressing it. What must I mean to you that you require my love so much that you become angry and threaten utter misery if I don't give it? It's so painful not to love you.

So be merciful to me and explain, Lord, what you are to me. Tell me, 'I am your salvation' and tell me loudly enough that I will hear. Look, Lord, my heart is open before you. Open the ears of my heart and tell me, 'I am your salvation'.

And after you speak, let me take hold of you quickly. Don't hide your face from me. Let me die in order that I won't just die. But let me see your face.

*New Spire edition, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8007-8762-2

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