Is there any good in the bad? (City of God Book I)

In Book I, of the City of God Augustine begins dealing with the questions that arise because of the fall of Rome. The number one question is simple: Why? Why did this happen? We all face this question when things go wrong.
One of the common responses to the question was that Rome fell because they turned their back on their gods and chose to serve God. They said that the gods had become angry. But, Augustine points out that the ‘gods’ allowed others cities to be sacked at other periods of time. Instead, Augustine says that the real problem behind the fall of Rome was its moral corruption. In fact, Augustine says, “You seek security not for the peace of your country but for your own impunity in debauchery. Prosperity depraved you; and adversity could not reform you.”
But, this begs the question, ‘Why did Christians suffer along with those whose morality was in ruins? Shouldn’t the Christian escape such judgment?’ Augustine points out that God uses tragedy and pain to refine. So “the patience of God still invites the wicked to penitence, just as God’s chastisement trains the good in patient endurance.” Augustine furthers his point by saying, “He has willed that these temporal goods and temporal evils should befall good and bad alike, so that the good things should not be too eagerly coveted, when it is seen that the wicked also enjoy them, and that the evils should not be discreditably shunned, when it is apparent that the good are often afflicted with them.”
In other words, God balances everything out so we do not love the good things so much that we only seek after them and so that we do not hate the bad so much that we always run from it.
The Christian sees suffering different from the world. The Christian experiences trials and knows that those trials will produce greater character if we will let them. The person apart from God doesn’t view trials like this and wants nothing to do with them. So, Augustine says, “The fire which makes the gold shine makes the chaff smoke…In the same way, the violence which assails good mean to test them, to cleanse and purify them, effects in the wicked their condemnation, ruin, and annihilation.” Those apart from God curse Him in trials and blame Him. Those in Christ draw close.
While we are tempted to wonder if it really so cut and dry, we have to admit that Augustine is right. When we embrace angry, bitterness, and depression because of our trials we are embracing the natural heart and not the spiritual. Those we might feel negative emotions and think negative thoughts in our trials, we have to move past those into an appreciation of how our difficulty is making us into something better.


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