One’s view of God may be congenial when things are going well and yet largely inadequate when one is facing the fundamental challenges that suffering and death pose to our sense of meaning and well-being. The large, “cosmic” questions of meaning that can seem too “abstract” and “distant” in normal times will become very concrete and immediate when crisis threatens. Will the comfortable, distant, non-demanding God be adequate to shed light on the deep questions of meaning in such times of darkness? So unbearable was Augustine’s grief, so incapable was he of bearing this burden, that it caused him to flee his hometown and return to Carthage.
Like all created things, friends are good, but incomplete. They are finite, and we have been created for an infinite good, and only it can fulfill us. To expect that created things, even friends, can fulfill us in ways that only God can is to expect more than they can give and to miss the good they can be. Like all created things, friends are meant to point us toward the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us. Our perseverance in truth, goodness, and love depends upon this. Without these, we become useless, and perhaps worse than useless, to those we call “friends.”
Which brings us to another question. How good a friend was Augustine? He was using his friendship with others to seduce them away from the faith and into a life of illusion and arrogant worldliness. And not merely this one nameless young man. There are also his other, more famous friends whose names we know: Alypius, Nebridius, and Romanianus. Augustine was clearly the intellectual ring-leader of the group, and he led them all into the errors of Manicheanism, before later leading them back out.
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