In his famous book, Confessions, one of the books I believe every Christian should read, Augustine states, “The familiar evil was more powerful than the unfamiliar good.” The context for this statement was his description of how he finally relinquished his soul to the care of God and became a Christian. Augustine was so entrenched in his life of sin that he struggled to give up his mistress and other vices in order to surrender to God.
Once he yielded to the power of God, the unfamiliar good became a way of life. He became one of the most influential Christians writers, and his books are still relevant today. As I re-read his salvation story in Confessions, I recognized that I could relate to his statement — even as a Christian.
Evil remains too familiar to me. I am not talking about the familiar evil that Augustine was caught up in as a man of the world. I have long given up outward rebellion from the obvious constraints that are given in God’s word: sexual purity, giving to others and God’s work, daily reading and prayer. I don’t steal, murder, commit adultery, etc. Yet, it is too familiar for me to hold onto wounds, obsess over how others are not doing the above as well as I am, judging others and simply being caught up in the demands of living in a fallen world while ignoring the God who entered this world via my very heart and longs to lead and guide me through all the above struggles I mentioned.
Good is feeling a bit more familiar to me, but evil remains far too familiar. It is a battle for me to turn my mind over to good. My natural instincts remain set on evil. I’ve found my focus word and verse for this year from 2 Peter 1: 5-8 are a rescue to hook me back to good and snatch me out of the familiar evil where I naturally feel more comfortable. It has become a pathway to walk away from the familiar evil. Here is what Peter wrote:
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Virtue is the word I have chosen for this year, and these verses guide me to a path of virtue. I have found that faith is a perfect place to begin. After all, I need faith to leave the familiar evil. I don’t want to leave on my own. It is only my faith in God and belief that He would not ask something that is bad for me that I even begin to notice that I have another choice. Next is goodness. Is it good? is the question I ask when I am stuck in my prison of emotional upset from my own thoughts. How do I know it is good or not? I look to Christ; it is only my knowledge of Him that makes me see where I really dwell in the familiar evil. Self-control is what keeps me from easily slipping back to the path I desire to leave, and perseverance goes hand-and-hand with self-control. If I stay on the path, I feel the results of godliness (not reacting naturally or how the issues naturally elicit thought, emotion and payback), kindness and ultimately agape love.
There is no better path to walk any day of the year. I hope for the day that the familiar good will become a way of life and will no longer be a struggle, but until then I will not stop striving to become more and more unfamiliar with evil.