Augustine asks us if our God is solid. Are we confused by the apparently unchecked evil around us? Is God strong enough to rest in? Is he the Holy One, with no worthy competitors, to whom we submit?
Augustine tried to cast his cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:6–7), and it didn’t work. That happens all the time with us as well. We ask Jesus to take away our miseries, worries, and despair and nothing happens, so we move on to other strategies. Augustine, however, learned that the problem was with him.
Thou [God] wert not to me any solid or substantial thing. For Thou were not Thyself, but a mere phantom, and my error was my God. If I offered to discharge my load thereon, that it might rest, it glided through the void and came rushing down again on me.¹
Augustine’s god was not God. Augustine had left the church in the midst of his doubts. He was charmed by the Manicheans and what seemed to be their more sophisticated search for truth. Essential to this search was an answer to the problem and presence of evil. Augustine’s god was confined by the physical world—in creation rather than over it. He was at odds with the equally powerful evil in the world, so there could be no hope for justice and final victory. The evil in humanity reflected this stand-off between good and evil. Since this evil was outside of us, there was nothing for us to do except passively accept its presence.