Sunday, February 10, 2008

Williams on Augustine's Confessions

"The Confessions provide a unique testimony to the fact that it is God and God alone who can give shape and meaning to a human life. The struggles of men and women to make their own lives and build their own securities end in despair, and this is equally true for the believer and the unbeliever. Conversion does not signify an end to the chaos of human experience, it does not make self-understanding easy or guarantee an ordered or intelligible life. What is changed in conversion is the set of determinants within which the spirit moves; and there may be as inaccessible to the mind as they were before. Thus the confidence of the believer never rests upon either his intellectual grasp or his intellectual control of his experience, but on the fidelity of the heart's longing to what has been revealed as the only satisfying object of its desire."

- Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross, 84.

This is an important point that Williams highlights in Augustine. Christians can often give the (false) impression that the good life of obedience and trust to which we are called is an easier, simpler one, as though the painful ambiguities and frustrations of life could be exchanged for uncomplicated simplicity. The evangelist then appears as a shonky car dealer offering an unbelievable product at discount prices. The desperate are taken in; the discerning, suspicious.

But the desire to build our own securities - whether we pursue it in a militant atheism safely unruffled by rumours of God, in an isolated individualism sheltered from the demands of real relationship or in a shallow Christianity that thinks all the answers are written down in the back of the book - will "end in despair". Life is not safe. There is no escape from this fact either in God or in flight from him.

The eager expectation associated with Christian belief does not come from discovering an exhaustive explanation of life's mysteries, a satiating of desire in ultimate answers, but from an encounter that deepens, affirms and subverts our desires.
For those confused, concerned or cross at reports of comments made by Williams about sharia law in the UK, check out Faith and Theology for some intelligent comment and discussion.


Anonymous said...

Great post Byron. And great quote.