“But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in him but in myself and his other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.” -- Saint Augustine
I've recently started reading about early Christian leaders. Following the chain of custody that formed the Bible as we know it has impacted my faith deeply. As one studies the lives of early Church fathers and faith leaders we can see over and over again the brokenness of the human race as well as the hope to which we are called.
One of the most impactful Christian teachers between the time of Paul and Martin Luther was Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was raised a believer by his mother Monica, a devout follower of Christ. He abandoned Christ in early adulthood as he became a Manichaeist teacher. He wrote about his journey and his progression towards Faith in his work entitled "Confessions".
In Augustine's works we can read about his winding journey to faith in Christ and find many moments of deep revelation as his mind and heart open to truth.
His early adulthood teachings centered on Manichaeism. This movement gained followers in Persia in the middle of the 3rd century. Like other early heresies, such as Gnosticism, it taught that the physical world was inherently evil and that salvation is obtained primarily through knowledge. The Manichaeism belief was that inner illumination reveals the soul... which shares in the nature of God, and that the soul has fallen into the evil world of matter and must be saved by means of the spirit or intelligence.
Manichaeist teaching criticized Christianity and took issue with the Bible for suggesting that some truths in the universe might not be easily understood by human beings. Of course this type of teaching is still prevalent in various forms today through various modern day new age teachings... we will talk about this another time.
Augustine began to open to the possibility first that the Bible - the New Testament - and eventually Christ himself was true slowly. He opened up intellectually first and then in 387 AD he accepted Christ emotionally as well. Augustine's work entitled "confessions" is a raw journey to spiritual and emotional freedom. While he was by no means perfect... we can draw from his journey nonetheless.
So what does Augustine have to do with self deception? Let's look at a few of Augustine's thoughts here:
“My inner self was a house divided against itself.”
“The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner.”
“We can see from this that the soul is weak and helpless unless it clings to the firm rock of truth. Men give voice to their opinions, but they are only opinions, like so many puffs of wind that waft the soul hither and tither and make it veer and turn.”
“My God, you had mercy on me even before I had confessed to you; but I now confess that all this was because I tried to find you, not through the understanding of the mind, by which you meant us to be superior to the beasts, but through the sense of the flesh.”
We can see here that this was a man who struggled deeply with truth. He denied himself nothing earlier in life... he sought peace through senses (feelings) and looked into his own heart for wisdom. He rejected the Christian faith his mother taught him as a young adult and then slowly made his way back to a deep faith again later in life.
In Augustine I see a man who never quit seeking truth. He took a winding road back to faith but each step was sincere. He says later he was self deceived... "I did not think myself a sinner.”...
This of course is the foundation of deception... believing a lie about ourselves. I've seen this in my own life and of others as they got to the emotional moment when they realized their perception of themselves was based in a lie... they saw their condition and it was as if scales fell from their eyes... they met Jesus and now they could not deny the truth.
Augustine is not unlike many of us... tossed to and fro... blindly seeking truth in all places except the cornerstone of truth himself. Join me in the conversation as we untangle the lies we tell ourselves. We are no different than other generations... we tell ourselves lies in order to justify our decisions to the degree we believe our own story... and that... that is self deception!
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Stay strong and be the change!