“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 1 John 5:1,2
Augustine was raised by a godly Christian mother who loved Jesus and prayed unceasingly for her son to come to faith in Christ. In the early years of his life at the end of the 4th century Augustine seemed to do everything he could to avoid having God answer his mothers prayers. He tried various religious options other than Christianity. He made a habit of looking for fulfillment in sexual exploits. He tried finding significance through fame in the world of ideas and rhetoric. He tried everything but Jesus. But that does not mean that he refused to believe in a divine being who could be called God. Like many people in our post-Christian era, Augustine “believed” in God. He believed that there was something higher than himself that he needed to acknowledge and believe it existed.
Augustine spent several years in his young adulthood as a devotee of the early Christian heresy known as Manichaeism. In short the Manicheans held that the spiritual world is what is good and it is trapped for now by the physical world that is evil. The goal for a Manichean was to rid oneself of the evil by coming to know yourself as a soul and be rid of the influence of evil. The Manichean idea of God is bound up in the two equal forces of good and evil. There is a Living Spirit responsible for creating, but there is not a single, omnipotent, holy God. Think of the two sides of the force in Star Wars, one of light and beauty and the dark side of evil and turmoil. The side of good was basically spiritual and the side of evil was basically physical. Eventually Augustine abandoned his experiment with the Manicheans and looked for spiritual fulfillment elsewhere.
Following his time with the Manicheans Augustine continued his search for some connection with the Divine being that he sensed was out there. The next stage of that search led him to study and teach rhetoric as a part of the Neo-Platonism of his day. That philosophy sought to understand the divine within all of us as an expression of the ultimate divine being whose spark or essence inhabited each person. In many ways it was just a variation on his Manichean days. And like that failed quest, this too ended in a feeling of emptiness.
Both his Manichean and Neo-Platonist years proved to be fruitless in Augustine’s search for a relationship with God. He was convinced that there was something out there, some divine being to know and understand. But he kept looking for that divine being in places other than the Christian faith he had been taught as a child. Fortunately his mother’s years of prayer were about to find their fulfillment and answer. Augustine eventually came to faith in Christ after years of searching for some fulfillment in his spiritual life. But Augustine recognized that he arrived at more than an intellectual understanding of God. In all his previous “spiritual” seeking he focused a concept or idea. You can’t have a relationship with a concept. The change for Augustine was that God became real. God became the one who loved him and demonstrated that love through the sacrificial death of Jesus. No longer did Augustine settle for head knowledge. He now had a heart knowledge. He came to love God. In Book X of The Confessions he says:
“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong.” From “Late Have I Loved Thee: Selected writings of St Augustine on Love” Edited by John Thornton and Susan Varenne Vintage Books.
Augustine came to love God. He gave himself completely and totally in service to God through Jesus Christ. In part that love came as a result of Augustine understanding that he in fact was a sinner who was hopeless on his own and that his only hope was in the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ. Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength comes when we experience the love of God on the Cross. The more we understand the depth of our sin; the more we will understand the price paid on the cross; the more we will love God.