Monthly Archives: May 2011

The False Gospel of Religious Nationalism – Part 4

The Dangers of the False Gospel of Religious Nationalism – continued (see Part 3 for Dangers 1-3):

4. Imposes Unbiblical Expectations Upon Christians

The fourth danger posed by the false gospel of religious nationalism is that it imposes unbiblical expectations upon Christians.  These expectations vary but consist of patriotism, love of and bias toward America, and some sort of manifestation of these affections.  Because this is something being done in churches it means that it is something being imposed upon believers unnecessarily and unbiblically.  The Word of God does not require such things nor does it commend it as something that should be part of the gathered church.  If anything, the Bible condemns any unscriptural imposition upon believers.  This can be specifically seen in the book of Galatians.  Paul is writing to a group of believers in Galatia who had been saved under his preaching.  He had found out that some had come into the church troubling the believers, imposing unnecessary expectations upon them.  The Judaizers were imposing an aspect of their national identity upon those who were not Jewish, making them think that true Christianity consisted not only in following Christ but fulfilling some other expectations as well.  Paul is clear that this is not so.  Without calling anyone Judaizers, for this is not my intent, we are presenting another gospel if we impose any expectations other than that which is required in the Scriptures.  Whether American, Canadian, British, Chinese, or African, any form of religious nationalism imposes unnecessary expectations upon believers.  The danger with this false gospel is that it adds to the true gospel of Jesus Christ and any additional gospel is a damning gospel that does not produces life but death now and for eternity.

5. National Arrogance Breeds Contempt and Neglect of Other Nations

The fifth danger posed by the false gospel of religious nationalism is the breeding of national arrogance which breeds contempt for and neglect of other nations.  Religious nationalism sees America as God’s favored country, its military as always on the side of righteousness, and its culture/government/freedom/knowledge as superior to the rest of the world.  With this attitude, contempt for other countries is bred.  In many minds our enemies in war deserve to be destroyed, we are a special people because we have been born and/or raised in America, and we cringe at the thought of the possibility of having to live in another country besides this one.  For everyone that moves to this country there is the imposition to become true Americans, forcing them to find their identity here by calling themselves African Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese American and the like, stripping them from their heritage.  It is almost as though if you are not American, you have not quite reached the status of full humanity.  After contempt is bred neglect follows.  We no longer think about or care for those whom we view in contempt.  Out of sight; out of mind.

This is what the false gospel of religious nationalism breeds within the church.  This cannot be.  America is not God’s nation for God transcends all national boundaries, setting up and tearing down governments as he pleases.  We are not special in the world because we live in America but have been providentially placed here that we might seek God and know him.  Our military, while seeking to do what is right, stands judged and condemned before God no differently than any other military unless individuals repent and trust Christ alone for salvation.  No matter what the nationality, ethnicity, race, etc. we are all made in the image of God and are cared for by Him.  As Christians, our identity is found in Christ not in any nation and we are called to be submitted to the will of God for us even if it means moving to a country less affluent, less educated, less moralized/Christianized.  We are not here for ourselves or our country, but, as God’s redeemed through Christ, we are here for Him and His glory.  The church in America must not have contempt for its brothers and sisters around the world.  We must not neglect them but we are to pray for them, send aid to them, learn from them, and go and serve alongside of them, seeing the beautiful diversity God has brought together in the gospel.  God’s heart is for the nations and so should our hearts be also.  The danger of the false gospel of religious nationalism is that as we lift up our nation we will begin to look down upon other nations and soon begin to neglect them.  Because of who we are in Christ and because of what God is gathering together for Christ in the church, we must rise above religious nationalism and be a church that has a God-sized global vision that not only prays that God blesses America with the presence and the power of the gospel but that he bless China, Africa, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and on and on with the same and more.  Who knows, it may be you that God sends to work through in one of those places.

As many of you are wondering as you have read these posts, is he even thankful at all for what many have done that he may have the freedom to even blog at this moment.  Am I thankful? Incredibly.  The efforts of and sacrifices made by men and women over the years that have allowed me and countless others to enjoy many things is beyond my comprehension and I am extremely grateful.  Do I think these men and women should be honored for their efforts?  Yes, as those who have faithfully served our country and others.  Will I participate in national holiday activities honoring country, its leadership and servicemen and women? Yes, because we are to give honor when honor is due.

But will I emphasize, lead in, or participate in such things within the gathering of the church? No.

For some foundational thoughts on this read, Kevin DeYoung, “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day

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The False Gospel of Religious Naitonalism – Part 3

In Part 1 we have seen that the practice of religious nationalism is incompatible with the nature and the purpose of the church.  In Part 2 we defined religious nationalism and surveyed its roots.  We uncovered the presence of the false gospel and its claims and practices.  We left off asking if this gospel presents any problems, or in other words, “Is there any danger in a church knowingly or unknowingly proclaiming the false gospel of religious nationalism?”

The Dangers of the False Gospel of Religious Nationalism:

1. Confuses Patriotism with Commitment to Christ

The first danger posed by the false gospel of religious nationalism is the confusion it brings between patriotism and commitment to Christ.  The issue is not that patriotism is bad and therefore sinful.  The issue is our heart.  Our hearts are so easily distracted, pulled in many different directions, ready to give allegiance to any and everything that tugs at our emotions.  Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24).  While in context Jesus is speaking about the incompatibility of going after the world’s goods and loving God, in the broader truth, this incompatibility extends to anything that competes with Christ for our affections, including love of country.  When country and honor of man are elevated to the level and praise of Christ within the church, our hearts are unable to love and honor both equally therefore we end up loving one and despising the other or we blend them into some new form of worship flowing out of this false gospel.  The normal response is either the diminishing of Christ for the love of man and country or the blending of the two.  The reason for this is that anything other than full commitment and submission to Christ is easier.  Of course we will keep Christ or God in the picture but the true measure of our faith is how patriotic we are rather than the fruit and faithfulness that flows from true conversion.  This leads many to a false affirmation of their faith because they attend the special services, sing the songs, recite the pledges and play the part, while in truth, their hearts remain unchanged, sin unchallenged and are spiritually dead.  The danger in the false gospel of religious nationalism is that as it is proclaimed those in the church will be forced to decide between Christ or country and only one can truly save and it’s Christ alone.

2. Diminishes the Worship of Christ

The second danger posed by the false gospel of religious nationalism is the diminishing worship of Christ.  This is inevitable when anything or anyone is elevated or equated with the person and work of Jesus.  In particular, religious nationalism proclaims the accomplishments of man for the sake of country, equating the sacrifice of men and women on the battlefield with the work of Christ on the cross.  Jesus’ words, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13),  are often quoted in reference to those killed in battle and the American military’s fight is related to that of Christ’s fight against sin and death.  What this does, whether acknowledged or not, is unworthily and undeservedly elevate the temporal afflictions suffered by sinful human beings deserving of wrath for their own sins with the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ who was undeservedly murdered by his own voluntary choice so as to accomplish true salvation for all who would believe.  There is truly no comparison.  Both who Christ is and what he did are complete categorical differences from what any man has done, no matter how self-sacrificial.  Whenever man is elevated within the church the worship of Christ is diminished.  The Bible is clear; Christ alone is worthy of worship.  Revelation 5:12-13 declares, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”  The danger of the false gospel of religious nationalism is its inherent ability to diminish the worship of Christ, who alone is worthy of our praise and who alone is to be honored and praised within the church.

3. Over-Generalizes Christianity: “God” vs “Christ”

The third danger posed by the false gospel of religious nationalism is its over-generalization of the faith, preferring to emphasize/speak of God rather than Christ.  This may seem trivial at first thought but the Scriptures show otherwise.  God has progressively revealed himself in the Scriptures.  Beginning with creation he has been gradually revealing himself more and more to his people, coming to the pinnacle revelation of himself in the God-Man Jesus Christ.  By the shedding of Christ’s blood for the new covenant, there is no longer any worship of God that does not recognize, come through and specifically emphasize Christ himself.  The problem with religious nationalism is that is generalizes its worship to only speak of “God”.  “In God We Trust”, “God Bless America”, “Endowed by their Creator”, and “One Nation Under God” are just a few examples of this over-generalization.  The danger is that many may be confirmed in their “general religion”, proclaiming belief in and worship of God for national blessings (Deism) while neglecting or even denying Christ, the supreme revelation of God and God himself.  If we are ashamed to name the name of Christ, then he will be ashamed of us before the Father.  We worship God only because of what Christ has done for us and and worship of God is always through Christ.  It is God the Father who has made much of Christ, giving him the name above every name, making him Lord over all things, making the world his footstool.  Ultimately, this is a salvific issue.  Confession of and belief in God saves no one for all know there is a God whether they acknowledge it or not and not all are saved because salvation is only found in Christ.  Acts 4:12 proclaims, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Part 4

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The False Gospel of Religious Nationalism – Part 2

What is Religious Nationalism?

The second question from the previous post that needs to be answered is, ” how have we, as Christians in America, come to expect, participate in, and be impassioned over church services that elevate man and his accomplishments/trials with that of Christ and His work?”  While a lengthy lesson on the history of the church, especially in America, could illuminate and possibly eliminate several problems, it will be sufficient to answer the question by understanding religious nationalism and its background.  In general, religious nationalism is the syncretism of both a religious belief system with its practices and nationalism or pride in one’s country/nation.  In particular, for our purposes, religious nationalism is the syncretism of Christianity (think the nature and purpose of the church as mentioned in the previous post) and patriotism, specifically American pride.  The blending of religion and national pride/commitment is not a new issue for the church, but the roots are from as far back as the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. where the Roman Emperor Constantine established religious toleration and then later sought to Christianize the whole empire.  For centuries Roman and Christian were seen as synonymous.  Post-Reformation, as some faced persecution for their beliefs, they fled to a New World seeking religious freedom, but soon after their arrival they began to set up the very thing they had sought to leave behind, a state church.  With the cry of liberty, the war for independence won, and the infamous promise of separation of church and state, the state churches began to fade.  But with that departure another issue arose.  The thought of the day was that America was God’s country.  He had delivered them from their oppressors, blessed them bountifully and given them a land.  Worship of God and praise of country were the constant themes in the government buildings as well as churches.  A new form of state church had emerged even without their acknowledgment.  It was one that was not recognized by the state but the churches began recognizing the state or, better yet, the country as one of its distinguishing marks.  Church and state/country were members of the same family, but it is interesting that while the church has continually clung to the country, the country has been consistently abandoning the church, its beliefs and morals.  This brings us to our state of affairs, religious nationalism.

What is the False Gospel of Religious Nationalism?

There are many in America today that see no difference in dedication to Christ and pride in or love of country.  In fact some, if not all, of those people think they are one in the same.  This is the essence of the false gospel of religious nationalism.  I am not saying dedication to and love for Christ is mutually exclusive with thankfulness for and honoring the God-given freedoms we enjoy as Americans and those who have fought for those freedoms.  They can both be true in the heart of every believer.  What is mutually exclusive is the worship of Christ alone and the proclamation of His Word with the worship of man’s accomplishments or pride of country within the gathering of the church.  As mentioned in the previous post, singing praises of our country, proclaiming the accomplishments of man in war and otherwise, reciting pledges, and the like do not align with the nature and purpose of the church, therefore they do not belong in the church as it gathers.  The false gospel of religious nationalism proclaims that America is God’s country and if you are going to be right with him you have to not only be “Christian” (whatever that may mean in a person’s specific church context) but also patriotic.  It is not necessarily that sin, judgment, grace and Christ are not preached, though that is becoming more the norm, but that alongside the true gospel is an expected and projected nationalism/patriotism.  To neglect to commit to this additional aspect of the gospel of religious nationalism brings ridicule, scorn, and at times excommunication.  Parishioners of this gospel are expected to not only accept Christ and be baptized but to pledge allegiance to country and sing its praises.  Salvation is not only from the wrath of God but from the unthinkable miseries of living in another nation other than America.  While the manifestations of this gospel are usually masked except for a few times a year, it is ever present.  It only takes a certain song, video clip, testimony or national crisis to stir up the emotions that give it such a following.

So how should we think about these things?  Is there a problem here?  Is there any danger in a church knowingly or unknowingly proclaiming the false gospel of religious nationalism?

Part 3

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The False Gospel of Religious Nationalism – Part 1

There are thousands gathering all across America for this event.  You decide to attend a gathering near you.  As you arrive and follow the others in, you recognize many familiar faces.  It seems like everyone you know is there.  There is a moment of silence as the event begins followed by a song set fit for the occasion.  Lee Greenwood songs are sung along with other national anthems.  The crowd is urged to sing along with the lead musicians.  Hearts are stirred and standing ovations happen repeatedly. Servicemen and women are recognized and honored for their sacrifices.  Usually there is a speech from one of the leaders of the event proclaiming the virtues of honor, courage and laying down one’s life for someone.  This is followed with more music celebrating the national holiday and a closing of blessings and fellowship.  At first glance this sounds like a normal Memorial Day or Fourth of July event/rally at the public park or community center, but for many it is what they experience in church on Sunday every year when these holidays roll around.  Questions: Should this be something happening within a church?  Does God desire, require, or command such things from the church?  Does such align with the nature and purpose of the church?

The Nature and Purpose of the Church

The easy answer to all the questions above is “No”.  But why? and how have we, as Christians in America, come to expect, participate in, and be impassioned over such church services?  First, the reason why those questions are answered in the negative is due to the nature and the purpose of the church.  The church in general or the universal church is the collection of all who have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ from all places and all time.  We have been united together into one body, with one baptism, by one Spirit under one Lord.  This body includes “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).  Christianity transcends all boundaries, for “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).  If you have been chosen, called, regenerated, and redeemed by the grace of God, then you have been united into the body of Christ.  This is not only true on the universal level but on the local level as well.  Every local manifestation of the body of Christ should be a reflection of the universal body.  Diversity and unity are not competing characteristics of the local church but are united through the reconciling power of the gospel.  The greater the gospel presence and understanding within a church the greater the diversity and unity will be.  To ever begin to associate the gospel, Christianity, the church, Jesus Christ or God with a particular nation, people, etc. is to miss the true reality of the gospel itself and to misrepresent what God is doing in Christ today.

The second reason why those things mentioned above ought not to be so is due to the purpose or mission of the church.  There are three main aspects concerning the mission/purpose of the church in the world.  The first purpose of the church is, as the redeemed of God, to worship Christ.  While He is ultimately deserving of our worship whether He had accomplished our salvation or not, we who have been purchased by His blood worship out of gratitude and love.  Christ is to be our greatest treasure and should be shown to be so in all that the church does together.  The second mission of the church is to proclaim Christ.  This takes place corporately as well as publicly.  When we gather together weekly we are to sit under the preaching of the Word, pointing to Christ as the ultimate fulfillment and illuminator of the Scriptures as well as reminding ourselves of the gospel, which is the foundation of all Christian thinking and living.  Publicly, the church takes the message of Christ to the world.  We are to seek to proclaim Christ with our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and all who God providentially places in our path in word and in deed, leading to the third purpose.  The third purpose of the church is to minister in and to the world.  With the message of Christ on our lips and the love of God in our hearts, we are to seek to care for, protect, and serve the needy in this world.  As those who have been shown incomprehensible mercy we are to be merciful to others with our time and resources.  The key to the purpose of the church is Christ.  To sum up, the purpose of the church is to advance Christ’s kingdom here on earth.  Since, at present, it is a spiritual kingdom it is spread through the changing of hearts by the hearing of the gospel and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.  Anything that is not in alignment with the worship of Christ alone, the proclamation of His Word, and the imitation of Him in the world is not only hindering Christ’s kingdom but is taking away from it, no matter how much it is rooted in church or national tradition.

Continue to Part 2.

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The Danger of Therapeutic Punishment

The practical problem of Christian politics is not that of drawing up schemes for a Christian society, but that of living as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish.  And when they are wicked the Humanitarian theory of punishment (see previous post) will put in their hands a finer instrument of tyranny than wickedness ever had before.  For if crime and disease are to be regarded as the same thing, it follows that any state of mind which our masters choose to call ‘disease’ can be treated as crime; and compulsorily cured.  It will be in vain to plead that states of mind which displease government need not always involve moral turpitude and do not therefore always deserve forfeiture of liberty.  For our masters will not be using the concepts of Desert and Punishment but those of disease and cure.  We know that one school of psychology already regards religion as a neurosis.  When this particular neurosis becomes inconvenient to government, what is to hinder government from proceeding to ‘cure’ it?  Such ‘cure’ will, of course, be compulsory, but under the Humanitarian theory it will not be called by the shocking name of Persecution.  No one will blame us for being Christians, no one will hate us, no one will revile us.  The new Nero will approach us with the silky manners of a doctor, and though all will be in fact compulsory as the tunica molesta or Smithfield and Tyburn, all will go on within the unemotional therapeutic sphere where words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘freedom’ and ‘slavery’ are never heard.  And thus when the command is given, every prominent Christian in the land may vanish overnight into Institutions for the Treatment of the Ideologically Unsound, and it will rest with the expert gaolers to say when (if ever) they are to re-emerge.  But it will not be Persecution.  Even if the treatment is painful, even if it is life-long, even if it is fatal, that will be only a regrettable accident; the intention was purely therapeutic.  In ordinary medicine there were painful operations and fatal operations; so in this.  But because they are ‘treatment’, not punishment, they can be criticized only by fellow-experts and on technical grounds, never by men as men on grounds of justice.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, in God in the Dock.

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Guilty or Sick: How Should We Treat Law Breakers?

According to the Humanitarian theory, to punish a man because he deserves it, and as much as he deserves, is mere revenge, and, therefore, barbarous and immoral.  It is maintained that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter others by example or to mend the criminal.  When this theory is combined, as frequently happens, with the belief that all crime is more or less pathological, the idea of mending tails off into that of healing or curing and punishment becomes therapeutic.  Thus it appears at first sight that we have passed from the harsh and self-righteous notion of giving the wicked their deserts to the charitable and enlightened one of tending the psychologically sick.  What could be more amiable? One little point which is taken for granted in this theory needs, however, to be made explicit.  The things done to the criminal, even if they are called cures, will be just as compulsory as they were in the old days when we called them punishments.  if a tendency to steal can be cured by psychotherapy, the thief will no doubt be forced to undergo the treatment.  Otherwise, society cannot continue.

My contention is that this doctrine, merciful though it appears, really means that each one of us, from the moment he breaks the law, is deprived of the rights of a human being.

The reason is this.  The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of Desert.  But the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice.  It is only  as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust.  I do not here contend that the question ‘Is it deserved?’ is the only one we can reasonably ask about a punishment.  We may very properly ask whether it is likely to deter others and to reform the criminal.  But neither of these two last questions is a question about justice.   There is not sense in talking about a ‘just deterrent’ or a ‘just cure’.  We demand of a deterrent not whether it is just but whether it will deter.  We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds.  Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’….

This is why I think it essential to oppose the Humanitarian theory of punishment, root and branch, wherever we encounter it.  It carries on its front a semblence of mercy which is wholly false.  That is how it can deceive men of good will.  Then error began, perhaps, with Shelley’s statement that the distinction between mercy and justice was invented in the courts of tyrants.  It sounds noble, and was indeed the error of a noble mind.  But the distinction is essential.  The older view was that mercy ‘tempered’ justice, or (on the highest level of all) that mercy and justice had met and kissed.  The essential act of mercy was to pardon; and pardon in its very essence involves the recognition of guilt and ill-desert in the recipient.  If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned.  How can you pardon a man for having a gumboil or club foot?  But the Humanitarian theory wants to simply abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it.  This means that you start being ‘kind’ to people before you have considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindness which no one but you will recognize as kindness and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties.  You have overshot the mark.  Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful.  That is the important paradox.  As there are plants which will flourish only in the mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety.  But we ought long ago to have learned our lesson.  We should bee too old now to be deceived by those humane pretensions which have served to usher in every cruelty of the revolutionary period in which we live.  These are the ‘precious balms’ which will ‘break our heads’.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” in God in the Dock.

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The Prayer of a Faithful Mother

And now thou didst “stretch forth thy hand from above” and didst draw up my soul out of that profound darkness [of Manicheism] because my mother, thy faithful one, wept to thee on my behalf more than mothers are accustomed to weep for the bodily deaths of their children. For by the light of the faith and spirit which she received from thee, she saw that I was dead. And thou didst hear her, O Lord, thou didst hear her and despised not her tears when, pouring down, they watered the earth under her eyes in every place where she prayed. Thou didst truly hear her.

For what other source was there for that dream by which thou didst console her, so that she permitted me to live with her, to have my meals in the same house at the table which she had begun to avoid, even while she hated and detested the blasphemies of my error? In her dream she saw herself standing on a sort of wooden rule, and saw a bright youth approaching her, joyous and smiling at her, while she was grieving and bowed down with sorrow. But when he inquired of her the cause of her sorrow and daily weeping (not to learn from her, but to teach her, as is customary in visions), and when she answered that it was my soul’s doom she was lamenting, he bade her rest content and told her to look and see that where she was there I was also. And when she looked she saw me standing near her on the same rule.

Whence came this vision unless it was that thy ears were inclined toward her heart? O thou Omnipotent Good, thou carest for every one of us as if thou didst care for him only, and so for all as if they were but one!

And what was the reason for this also, that, when she told me of this vision, and I tried to put this construction on it: “that she should not despair of being someday what I was,” she replied immediately, without hesitation, “No; for it was not told me that ‘where he is, there you shall be’ but ‘where you are, there he will be’“? I confess my remembrance of this to thee, O Lord, as far as I can recall it–and I have often mentioned it. Thy answer, given through my watchful mother, in the fact that she was not disturbed by the plausibility of my false interpretation but saw immediately what should have been seen–and which I certainly had not seen until she spoke–this answer moved me more deeply than the dream itself. Still, by that dream, the joy that was to come to that pious woman so long after was predicted long before, as a consolation for her present anguish.

Nearly nine years passed in which I wallowed in the mud of that deep pit and in the darkness of falsehood, striving often to rise, but being all the more heavily dashed down. But all that time this chaste, pious, and sober widow–such as thou dost love–was now more buoyed up with hope, though no less zealous in her weeping and mourning; and she did not cease to bewail my case before thee, in all the hours of her supplication. Her prayers entered thy presence, and yet thou didst allow me still to tumble and toss around in that darkness.

Meanwhile, thou gavest her yet another answer, as I remember–for I pass over many things, hastening on to those things which more strongly impel me to confess to thee–and many things I have simply forgotten. But thou gavest her then another answer, by a priest of thine, a certain bishop reared in thy Church and well versed in thy books. When that woman had begged him to agree to have some discussion with me, to refute my errors, to help me to unlearn evil and to learn the good‑‑ for it was his habit to do this when he found people ready to receive it–he refused, very prudently, as I afterward realized. For he answered that I was still unteachable, being inflated with the novelty of that heresy, and that I had already perplexed divers inexperienced persons with vexatious questions, as she herself had told him. “But let him alone for a time,” he said, “only pray God for him. He will of his own accord, by reading, come to discover what an error it is and how great its impiety is.” He went on to tell her at the same time how he himself, as a boy, had been given over to the Manicheans by his misguided mother and not only had read but had even copied out almost all their books. Yet he had come to see, without external argument or proof from anyone else, how much that sect was to be shunned–and had shunned it. When he had said this she was not satisfied, but repeated more earnestly her entreaties, and shed copious tears, still beseeching him to see and talk with me. Finally the bishop, a little vexed at her importunity, exclaimed, “Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” As she often told me afterward, she accepted this answer as though it were a voice from heaven….

[AUGUSTINE’S CONVERSION] Then we went in to my mother, and told her what happened, to her great joy. We explained to her how it had occurred–and she leaped for joy triumphant; and she blessed thee, who art “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.”For she saw that thou hadst granted her far more than she had ever asked for in all her pitiful and doleful lamentations. For thou didst so convert me to thee that I sought neither a wife nor any other of this world’s hopes, but set my feet on that rule of faith which so many years before thou hadst showed her in her dream about me. And so thou didst turn her grief into gladness more plentiful than she had ventured to desire, and dearer and purer than the desire she used to cherish of having grandchildren of my flesh.

Augustine (354-430), Confessions, Book 3:xi-xii, 8.xii

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