We’ve all done it. From the least to the greatest, the dumbest to the smartest, the most vile to the most honorable – we have all taken that which did not belong to us.
St. Augustine, (354-430 A.D) the Bishop of Hippo (North Africa, Algeria) was no exception. Prior to his conversion to Christ, he lived a wild life, indulging the flesh in every way. Writing book two of his legendary “Confessions” his mid-40s, he reflects on his teenage years back when he ran with a few friends that consistently found themselves getting into trouble. Can anyone relate? I know I can. The boys moved in together and called themselves something to the effect of “The Destructors.”*
One evening, The Destructors we’re up to no good. Across the way from Augustine’s parents home was an orchard belonging to someone else. The boys decided to help themselves to some pears. These boys weren't Robin Hoods - stealing to give to the poor. They didn't steal out of hunger. They stole but simply because it was wrong. There was a law to break and they broke it. They simply threw them away to some nearby hogs.
We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart–which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself.
Stealing pears to give to hogs may not seem like a major sin compared to countless horrendous acts through world history. However, this "small" sin gave an excellent read on his (and our) heart. I'm under the impression that the Holy Spirit coupled with midlife reflection tends to put things in perspective. As he thought about his friends, the laughing, the pears, the thought of getting away with something, and the hogs laid up against the grace of God, he saw his heart for what shape it really was in when Jesus saved him.
It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error–not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.
It was a love of sin.
We've all been there. Even those we refer to as "Saints."
How'd he go from sinner to saint? The same way you and I do. Through the truth that where sin abounded grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20).
Justo González, The Mestizo Augustine: A Theologian Between Two Cultures, 34.