We are getting into some interesting and convicting stuff now. Augustine continues his discussion about suffering and why both the righteous and the wicked suffer correction. He gets into detailing of the motives of the good, explaining why even good people deserve correction: some love this present life more than they should, some fail to correct the wicked when they should, some are afraid to lose their material wealth, all fail to love as they should. There is no one who is beyond God’s correction. He has already said, and he brings it up again here, that this suffering can help the righteous man to love God more, to reject the pleasures of the present life. Suffering is an important teacher.
In chapter 10, Augustine argues that the righteous and godly do not actually lose anything of value when they lose their goods: “They lost all they had. Their faith? Their godliness? The goods of the inward man who is rich before God? These are the riches of the Christians….” In reality, they have gained more than they lost, because of the net gain to their souls. If they loved riches then they (should) have learned their sin in loving them. If they never really loved riches then they gained spiritual benefits – encouragement from God, growth in faithfulness, more certainty in their resolve to reject love of wealth. God uses suffering to the good of those who love Him.
We Protestants have a fairly obvious complaint from chapter 9 – Augustine categorizes married folks as clearly weaker Christians. He’s not making a full argument, so I won’t get into the whole discussion here. I would just want to note that it’s not clear to me that married people are clearly weaker Christians. Two notes: first, it’s also not clear to me that single folks are clearly weaker Christians, as our Protestant culture seems to think. We live as though we believe this. Single, chaste Christians have important gifts to offer and I hope that our overcorrection to the Medieval Catholic position is swinging back to a better appreciation for the gifts of singleness. Second, I am convicted by Augustine’s language here – I do make decisions in order to please my wife or to bless my kids because I love this present life more than I should. I want to please them, sometimes more than I want to please God. God, save me from my sinful love of this life and from any love that I put above my love for You.