Once there was a young man hanging out with his friends. They were bored so they decided to do something exciting. One of the people in the neighbourhood had some pear trees. He was one of those people obsessive about his trees. He didn’t want people on his property taking his pears. In other words, he was the perfect target for these bored young people. They jumped the fence, snuck into his yard, and stole a bunch of his pears. They ran back out as quickly as they could, hoping not to get caught — or maybe to get caught and make a close escape. Once they made their get-away, they looked at the pears. They were ugly and inedible. They threw the pears to some pigs.
The young man was Augustine, who later became known as one of the church fathers. He wrote about this in his classic book Confessions – which, if you’ve never read it, you really need to. It’s the most readable book by Augustine and tremendously edifying. Augustine reflected on the pear incident in Confessions. Why did he do it? Simply, he says, for “the excitement of stealing and doing something wrong.” Augustine goes on to write about how sin is always irrational and self-destructive, and yet we love it just the same. This is what he says:
I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself….I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake.
Augustine did this when he was still an unbeliever. He wasn’t converted to Christ until much later. But if you read further in his Confessions, it becomes clear how the irrational and self-destructive nature of sin hounded him his whole life, even after becoming a Christian. He’s really honest about that.
I can relate and I’m sure you can too, if you’ve given it any thought. Why do we sin? If we’d stop and think for a moment, we’d see the utter stupidity of what we’re doing. But sin blinds us. It makes us deaf to reason. Sin turns us into fools. We know God is holy. We know he hates sin. We know he will punish sin with unquenchable wrath. Yet we do it. We sin every day with our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
Now the gospel tells us that God will forgive all our sins through Christ and so we go to Christ to escape the coming wrath. We’re assured of forgiveness through him. You’d think that would make us into people filled with love and thanksgiving, people wanting to obey and please our Father in heaven who has loved us so much. Yet instead, so often, we forget his love, we trample on the gospel, and still want to do things our own way. Does it make any sense? Not to me. And yet, sin has compelled me and sin will compel me. The same is true for you. For all of us, we’re burdened with the utter irrationality of our wickedness. For a Christian, it’s totally frustrating.
But let me encourage you. If you see the senselessness of sin, take heart because this is God’s work in you with his Holy Spirit. If sin frustrates you, it’s because God has opened your eyes through regeneration. The way forward involves awareness of your plight and God grants that gift to all his children.
God doesn’t stop there. The Holy Spirit also works with the Word so there is actual growth in our lives. True Christians can and will make progress in holiness. The growth may be slow and many times it can be imperceptible. Sometimes, sadly, Christians backslide too. Nevertheless, the overall trend in a Christian’s godliness is upward. That’s something we want, something we strive for, and something God graciously grants. By God’s grace, we are being set free from the senselessness of sin. We are on our way to a place and state where everything we do, say, and think will finally make sense.