Is our ambition for God or for success? Are our sights set on doing what God wants or doing what we want?
Jesus is constantly drawing a dichotomy seen not only in his teaching but throughout the biblical story. In a lot of ways, the biblical story can be reduced to a story of choice: a choice between one of two different options: store up treasures on earth or with God, be committed to God or a slave Mammon.
Years ago, a bishop named Augustine spoke into moment similar to the one we’re in. The centuries-old Roman Empire had fallen. Chaos ensued. People were scared because they didn’t know what was coming next. Rome had been around for a long time. But also people were angry. Where was the God of the Christians, and why hadn’t he done anything?
Among many other things, Augustine argued that God was using the crisis of his day to strengthen the godly and smoke out evil (just like fire is used to purify gold and eliminate impurities). As he said it “the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked . . . So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them.”
He painted a picture of two realities, two cities or communities, to which every person belonged, either to the City of God or the City of Man. The City of God is a community of self-giving love, the City of Man is defined by twisted self-love. Just like its Founder and its citizens, the City of God would stand the test of time. The City of Man, no matter how much more attractive it was, would fall . . . just like Rome.
Rome fell, but the City of God and its citizens live on.
Thanks to Augustine, we’re reminded, we are all choosing everyday which kind of human we will be. What kind of people has COVID-19 shown us to be? Who is leading us, which community are we living in?
But as for the good things of this life, and its ills, God has willed that these should be common to both; that we might not too eagerly covet the things which wicked men are seen equally to enjoy, nor shrink with an unseemly fear from the ills which even good men often suffer. There is, too, a very great difference in the purpose served both by those events which we call adverse and those called prosperous. For the good man is neither uplifted with the good things of time, nor broken by its ills; but the wicked man, because he is corrupted by this world’s happiness, feels himself punished by its unhappiness.
Augustine of Hippo, City of God
- Check out my video on Two Communities gospel tool. The goal is to learn to make your own sketch to share with others. Let us know when you make and share your own (video or in-person)!
- Bible Project does a great job illustrating this idea in their video on biblical story
- City of God is a massive tome, but so good. If you find yourself with a love for classics and a lot of time, check it out!