The Depth of Our Helplessness

We are in this life in a spiritual journey to meet our Lord. We have to face many spiritual battles before we can finally reach the mountaintop. These battles cannot be won based on our own power. The conversion story of Augustine is a testimony to this. Despite the many efforts he personally made to find the truth—God, he never finds it until he understands that he must not rely on his own power. It is only God’s grace that enables us to turn to him. Although he was wholeheartedly looking for happiness, it could not be found without God’s grace. Two of the questions he asks show the primacy of God’s grace over personal effort. First, “why do I hesitate to abandon secular hopes and dedicate myself to God and the happy life?” (Confessions book vi, xi (19)). Second, if God is the author of supreme good, why do I have the power to will evil and reject good? (Book vii, iii (5)) I want to show that regardless of how willing we may want to surrender to God and do the right thing, God’s grace is indispensable in order to make that choice.
After Simplicianus told Augustine the story of Victorinus and St. Anthony, it became clear to him that he needs to convert to the catholic faith. He understands that there is no delight for him unless he turns himself to God. However, he quickly realizes having the knowledge that God is the source of happiness that he is seeking, and actually embrace that happiness are two worlds apart. As he put it, “the enemy had a grip on my will and held me prisoner”. His new will to enjoy the only source of pleasure was not strong enough to conquer his older will. His two wills were in conflict and robbed his soul of all concentration (book viii, v (10)). By saying this, he clearly understands that his happiness does not lie in worldly affairs, but he could not give them up on his own; though the burden of the world weighed him down, he could not turn to God until he called upon Jesus to fill him with power to overcome the disease of worldly allurements (book viii, v (12)). That tells us, even if we know what to do, our intellect and will need help to act. We need God’s grace. Without grace, we cannot make heavenly choice. We are in good shape only when our source of energy is God.
We have the power to reject good and choose evil because we have the power of choice. To understand the second question, Augustine works out some principle. God is good. All that he created is good. If they were not good, they would not exist at all. Evil has no being; so it was not created (by God) (book vii, v (7)). It enters the scene as a result of our bad choice. Humans are created with the power to choose. As such, he can choose whatever he pleases. As a result, he makes good and bad choice. God lets them choose lest he interfere with their freedom. To avoid evil, we need to regulate our choices. On our own, we will always fail. We need God’s grace to help us order our choices. That’s possible when we embrace the mediator between God and man— Jesus Christ (book vii, xviii (24)). It is only with God’s intervention do we receive the grace to make good choice. Yes, we find the grace to serve the Lord willingly only when we put on Jesus Christ (book viii, xii (29)). Unless we put our spiritual mouth at the fountain of God’s delight and drink avidly, the truth we are seeking could not be found (book ix, iii (6)).
It is my hope that no one has to look deep to realize how much God is necessary in his lives. From the breath we respire to our greatest accomplishment, I hope it is easy enough to see God’s fingers in all of them. So when you realize how much you’re contingent upon God, please take a moment to thank him for being so generous to you today. It’s as simple as that!

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