During this past summer, my cabinet took up the challenge of reading our Core Book for the 2018-2019 school year: Augustine’s Confessions. I hadn’t read Confessions since I was a Wheaton student 30 years ago, and I was startled to see how relevant the author’s life experiences are for today’s Christian college students.
Augustine’s parents had high expectations for him. Like many Wheaton students, he felt pressure to succeed academically. His parents made personal sacrifices to pay the high price for sending him to the best school, which also must sound familiar to today’s students.
Before leaving home to complete his training, Augustine took what today we would call a “gap year,” mainly for financial reasons. To the consternation of his parents—especially his dear mother, Monica—he wasted the year by chasing women and hanging out with his friends. Sexual sin takes different forms in the Digital Age, but the basic temptation is the same today.
When he finally did go off to study in Carthage, where he “majored” in philosophy and communication, Augustine was more interested in going to the theater than he was in reading his books. Put him in the 21st century, and it’s not hard to imagine him binge-watching something on Netflix when he ought to be heading to the library.
But what seems most relevant about Augustine’s experience is his insatiable desire.
In all his spiritual and intellectual wanderings, Augustine was craving something that human friendship, sexual intimacy, popular entertainment, and even academic studies could never satisfy. He was longing for a loving relationship with the living God.
The opening lines of Confessions form Augustine’s thesis: “You made us for yourself as our goal, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” In effect, his entire life was a pilgrimage to find rest for his soul through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
On one memorable occasion, Augustine stood with his mother and surveyed the beauty of creation. Together they spoke quietly about the joys awaiting them in heaven. They tried to imagine what it would be like to have an immediate encounter with their Savior—an intimate connection not mediated by any created thing, or even by the written Word of God.
As the world hushed around them, the two saints came as close to the triune God as any mortals can. But they still sensed that fuller satisfaction was waiting for them on the far side of eternity. We stand with them, and with our students, in wanting to get close to Jesus as we hope for our everlasting rest.