We Westerners generally feel that, if we want to accomplish anything in life, we have to believe in ourselves and to nurture a high self-esteem. However, Augustine was accomplished and seemed to have had a low self-esteem:
- For I am needy and poor, but you who care for us, yet are free from care for yourself, have enough and to spare for all those who call upon you. (Confessions, Book XI:2)
Augustine’s “Confessions” can be uncomfortable. They contradict some of our most basic assumptions about our lives. While it has become an almost unquestioned assumption in the Western world that the good life is about being happy and self-fulfilled, Augustine’s “Confessions” are about being God-filled:
- By confessing our own miserable state and acknowledging your mercy towards us, we open our hearts to you, so that you may free us wholly, as you have already begun to do. Then we shall no longer be miserable in ourselves but will find true happiness in you. (Book XI:1)
There is a biblical logic in this. After all, what blocks us from a joyous relationship with our Savior? Our baggage! Our self-absorption! How do we leave behind our self-obsessions? Well, how do we leave behind any relational conflict? By apologizing! First, we have to acknowledge our wrong-doing; then we can leave it behind us. After I have wronged my wife, I cannot simply tell her, “Let’s forget about that and move on.” Instead, I have to apologize for what I have done.
The same principle pertains to our relationship with the Lord. We cannot move on until we confess our self-centeredness and self-righteousness. Then we can move to the next step by asking for His help.
The Bible articulates this concept in so many ways. Jesus told a parable about two men who prayed in the Temple. While the “successful” man congratulated himself, the other humbled himself by confessing his sin. Jesus concluded:
- "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)
Likewise, Jesus taught that we must not think that we are entitled to our Lord’s mercy. Instead, we have to become as little children:
- He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4)
In contrast to little children, the self-righteous believe that they are better than others and, therefore, are entitled to what can only come as a gift from God. In regards to this, a Roman commander was theological miles ahead of even Jesus’ disciples. He requested that Jesus heal his servant but added that he was not worthy that He should come to his house where his servant laid. Instead, it was enough that Jesus merely speak the word of healing.
Instead, of regarding the Roman as having a defective self-image, Jesus marveled at his faith, expressed through his humble heart and the wisdom that accompanies humility:
- When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (Matthew 8:10)
- "O Lord, perfect your work in me. Open me to the pages of your Book. Your voice is my joy, a greater joy than any profusion of worldly pleasures... If we make it our first care to find the kingdom of God, and his approval, all these things shall be ours without the asking."
Augustine's prayer should prompt us to reconsider the way we regard ourselves and the way we regard our Savior.