The first paragraph of Augustine’s groundbreaking autobiography, Confessions, closes with its most memorable line. Speaking to God, Augustine says,
You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. (3)
So beautifully written, it’s not surprising that this line is quoted and referenced so often. But why does it still resonate with readers over 16 centuries later?
In Confessions, Augustine writes about his own heart’s wandering to show us how every heart remains restless until it rests in God.
“You Have Made us”
How can Augustine be so sure that knowing God will give our hearts the rest they search for? Augustine’s answer is simple: God knows what we need because he created us. He even knows you and me better than we know ourselves!
Augustine prayerfully reflects on his infancy,
You, Lord my God, are the giver of life and a body to a baby. As we see, you have endowed it with senses. You have co-ordinated the limbs. You have adorned it with a beautiful form, and for the coherence and preservation of the whole you have implanted all the instincts of a living being. (10)
Augustine addresses his prayer to God because he recognizes that God, as the Creator, is the beginning of his story and the source of life.
Augustine learned from the Bible that God has intricately crafted every human being. The words in the quote above sound a lot like the words of the biblical passage where David writes,
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV)
The God who intricately formed us knows exactly what our hearts long for. Because he formed us, he knows what will give us rest.
While some people are still in search of rest, others may feel that they’ve already found the rest that their hearts long for. But Augustine wants to show that God created us in such a way that we find true rest only when we find it first in him.
We do experience temporary rest outside of God—say, in the form of a satisfying career or a healthy romantic relationship. Fulfilling careers and loving relationships are good gifts given by God to be enjoyed. But they cannot be enjoyed as a replacement for God—our hearts are created only to fully rest in the Giver of these gifts.
The truth that God is more desirable than the gifts he gives, young Augustine would not understand until later in life. Augustine captures both his regret over misused time and energy, and his fulfillment after finally realizing that he needed to know God when he writes,
Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. (201)
Are you still in search of rest for your wandering heart? Do you expect fulfillment in your possessions, your job, or your loved ones—and still find yourself wanting?
Augustine has been there, too. And he wants you to know that there is a deeper enduring rest that you can have—in the Giver of all the good gifts you enjoy!
“Our Heart Is Restless”
Much of Augustine’s Confessions illustrates the wandering and restlessness that happens before we recognize this truth as we search for ultimate rest in temporary things and repeatedly fail to find it.
Augustine looked for rest through relationships. He gave in to peer pressure, doing things like stealing, thinking that solidarity with his peers would lead to peace. Several years later, reflecting on the death of a close friend and his own devastating grief, Augustine realized that he had put too much pressure on the friendship to satisfy his restless heart.
Augustine also chased after romantic relationships, notoriety, and success in his career. None of these efforts provided what his heart longed for. He knew that there had to be more to life.
Such pursuits will never satisfy us either, if they are pursued as an end in themselves. So what are we to do?
“Until it Rests in You”
The answer, Augustine tells us, is to come and receive the rest that God offers us in Jesus Christ.
God entered our restless world in the person of Jesus to live the perfect life we couldn’t, die the death we deserve for rebelling against our loving Creator, and rise from the dead, granting all who believe in him new power to live according to our God-given purpose.
Because we failed to seek God to satisfy us, God actually sought us: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).
Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus offers us forgiveness for our rebellion against God and for seeking God’s gifts rather than God himself.
Jesus offers us his Word, the Bible, that we might know him better and understand his will for our lives.
We can experience rest here and now if we pursue knowing and loving Jesus, the God who made us.
Are You At Rest?
Augustine encountered God and his message of lasting rest offered through Christ by reading the Bible. He writes,
I submitted my neck to your easy yoke and my shoulders to your light burden, O Christ Jesus ‘my helper and redeemer’. (155)
In that quote, Augustine drew from the Bible where Jesus says,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
Jesus tells us to come and trust him with our burdened and restless souls—for now, and for eternity—for he is the Lord and our only Savior. Augustine experienced exactly what Jesus promised—freedom from the sin and soul-searching that once enslaved him. He says,
Already my mind was free of ‘the biting cares’ of place-seeking, of desire for gain, of wallowing in self-indulgence, of scratching the itch of lust. And I was now talking with you, Lord my God, my radiance, my wealth, and my salvation. (155)
Augustine found that trusting Jesus to reconcile him to God put his desires in the right order. Only when he was at peace with the Giver could he truly enjoy God’s good gifts, for the gifts are there to point us to the Giver we long for.
Rest for our restless hearts is only found in the eternal God who created us for himself. To rest in God is to receive the gift of salvation freely offered to us in Jesus Christ, and then to entrust our lives to him.
Have you found this rest?