So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
–Hebrews 4:9 (ESV)
Chapter 28: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Gen 1:31). While each part of creation is good in itself, taken together it is “very good”. “Severally good, they are exceedingly good all together.” Just at the parts of the body are good, they only become “exceedingly good” when working together (the analogy to the Body of Christ should be clear). God created the universe to work together in harmony for the good of all His creatures. The piecemeal nature of creation does not mean that it was haphazardly thrown together. Nothing was left to chance — all of creation (before the Fall, at least) conformed to the plan and the will of God.
Chapters 29&30: After reminding us again that the succession of days does not mean that God experienced the passage of time, Augustine gets one last shot in at the Manichees before finishing his book. Essentially, it seems that they believed that God was “forced” to create the world by welding together a bunch of pre-existing parts. God constructed this cosmos to defeat his enemy, although much of what we see in the world was actually created by an evil “god”. “People who allege this are mad,” Augustine declares. This concept of creation simply does not logically hold together. To be clear on the orthodox view of creation: God created the world from nothing and of His own free will. There is no pre-existent enemy, but rather an enemy who rebelled against God by using the free will given him by God. At the point of creation, the entire universe, everything visible and invisible, was created good. Nothing and no one, not even Satan himself, is inherently evil.
Chapter 31: How do we know all of this? The only person who knows God is the very Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11). But, of course, we have the Spirit dwelling inside of us (see, e.g., Rom. 8:9). Therefore, we can know and perceive the goodness of God by His Spirit who lives within us. In some mysterious way, God is looking at His world through our eyes and seeing the goodness therein. That, I suppose, is what it means to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). “Through him we see that everything is good which in any degree has being, because it derives from him who has being in no degree at all, but is simply He Is” (see Ex. 3:14). Our perception of reality becomes more accurate the more we are united with the basis of that reality, God Himself. And the reality is that everything and every person, no matter how twisted by evil, retains some good simply because they exist and that existence came from our infinitely-good God.
Chapters 32,33&34: In these chapters, Augustine summarizes both the literal meaning of Genesis 1 and his allegorical interpretation of it. There’s not much new to say, as this is just summary, but I didn’t want you to think I was skipping anything. Moving on!
Chapters 35&36: Augustine concludes this book and the Confessions as a whole, appropriately, with rest. He prays for “the peace that is repose, the peace of the Sabbath, and the peace that knows no evening.” Of course, this is a reference to the seventh day of creation: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:2-3). I love the image of the Sabbath rest of God as eternal. “But the seventh day has no evening and sinks toward no sunset, for you sanctified it that it might abide forever.” The book has come full circle. Just as our hearts are unquiet until they rest in God, so Augustine reminds us that God’s Sabbath rest is eternal life. As the author of Hebrews puts it (in the verses following the epigraph for today): “Whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (4:10-11). We enter the rest of God through obedience to Him, through a life united to God in the Holy Spirit.
Chapters 37&38: Of course, we still have work to do and God is still working in His world. “But you yourself, Lord, are ever working, ever resting.” Paradoxically, we rest in God even as we continue to work and strive in this fallen world. God exists beyond all that, in eternal rest, yet He has come to dwell with us in time through Jesus Christ and in each believer by the Holy Spirit. Thus, he is ever working and ever resting. So must we be until we achieve that final rest promised to all who put their hope in Him.
In the end, we see all created things because God made them, but for God it is the reverse: “they exist because you see them”. Everything that is exists because God sees it and wills it to continue being. Read Psalm 104 for a beautiful picture of God’s all-encompassing providence over creation and His care for everything from the starry host to wild donkeys. All of these things are good, and we are good, at least as much as we share in the gift of God. But even that goodness is transient, for “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17). Whatever rest we have on this side of the grave is temporary and partial. “But you, the supreme Good, need no other good and are eternally at rest, because you yourself are your rest.” God is already at rest. No matter what happens in this crazy, temporal world, God is not perturbed. If we abide in Him, we too can share in His rest. So Augustine ends the book by reminding us to ask, seek, and knock (Matt. 7:7-8). For God has promised to open the door to all who seek Him. May we, like Augustine, seek God with all that we have and are, and, in doing so, enter the rest of God.
Quote for meditation: “Your creation sings praise to you so that we may love you, and we love you so that praise may be offered to you by your creation.”