Because you have made us for Yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.
Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.
Here it is: one of the greatest sentences ever written, the basic theme . . . of life itself.
It has two parts.
The first is the objective fact, and the second is the subjective experience.
In fact, the first is the fundamental objective fact of life, and the second is the fundamental subjective experience of life.
They are connected by an implied “therefore”: our hearts are restless until they rest in God because He has made us for Himself. We feel like homing pigeons because we are.
Thus the fundamental claim of Christian anthropology (that God has made us for Himself) explains the fundamental fact of human experience (that our hearts are restless).
There are three truths here:
1. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you*
2. because you have made us for yourself
3. and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
They are related logically by the “for” [because] and by the “and,” which implies “and therefore.”
The fact (2) that God has made us for Himself is the fundamental objective fact.
The other two statements are the two subjective experiences that follow from it and are explained by it (and by it alone:
(1) that the human heart finds joy . . . in praising God, the God it has found; and
(3) that if finds only restlessness without Him.
Thus the deepest fact of Christian theological anthropology explains the two deepest facts of human experience.
The “for” [because] in the first part is the English translation not of pro but of ad. “Fecisti nos ad te.”
Pro is the preposition for ownership, but if Augustine had written pro, the sentence still would have been profoundly true: God our Creator owns us, rightly claims us.
But ad makes a deeper point. It is a preposition expressing dynamic movement. It means “toward.” God has made us toward Himself. We exist “to” or “toward” or “in movement to” Him, like arrows moving toward a target or homing pigeons flying home. We are verbs as well as nouns.
We are not static objects, but dynamic, moving subjects. We are not God’s property so much as God’s lovers. He is not only our origin and our owner, He is also our end, our purpose, our destiny, our identity, our meaning, our peace, our joy, our home.
The story of Augustine’s life is the story of a homeless person’s journey to his true home. And when he arrives, he finds both His own identity and God’s. The two always go together . . .
In his Soliloquies, which are imaginary conversations between God and himself, Augustine imagines God asking him what he wants to know, and he replies that he wants to know only two things: who he is and who God is. “Nothing else?” God asks. “Nothing else,” Augustine replies. For everything else is relative to these two things. . . . God and myself are the only two realities I can never escape for a single moment, in time or in eternity; that is why the one absolutely essential thing is to know both. And they are a package deal; neither can be known without the other also being known.
Therefore the Confessions is simultaneously the story of Augustine’s search for himself and his search for God. And it is only Christ who shows us both, who reveals God to man and man to himself by being both perfect God and perfect man.
Ultimately, of course, it is God’s search for Augustine. His search for God is a function of God’s search for him, not vice versa. As the old hymn says,
I sought the Lord and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true,
no, I was found by Thee.
Elsewhere Augustine imagines God saying to him, “Take heart; you would not be seeking Me if I had not already found You.”The “restless heart” is the very heart of every human heart.
What makes Augustine different is only that he is honest enough to admit it and passionate enough to run rather than stroll through it.
This restlessness is the second most precious thing in the world, since it is the means to the only good that is even greater than itself, namely, the rest that comes only in God.
Our homelessness, our alienation, our misery, our confusion, our lover’s quarrel with the world—this is our greatest blessing, next to God Himself.
Peter Kreeft, I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 21-23.
*I’ve changed this quote from Shedd’s translation (which Kreeft uses) to Chadwick’s because I can’t make sense of how Shedd is rendering the Latin (tu excitas ut laudare te delectet).