One of the things I like about the writings of the Christian church father St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) is his rich use of analogies1 in talking about critical theological topics. An analogy, of course, is a comparison between two things (how they are like and unlike), usually for the purpose of providing explanation. In his most popular work, Confessions,2 Augustine compares the human soul to a house and offers hope for all souls that need housekeeping.

Comparing a Soul to a House

One of the unique features of the Confessions is that Augustine wrote the book as an ongoing prayer to God. It records his prayerful communication and reflections. So he says this in prayer to the Lord:

“My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. But who is to rid it of these things?”3

The soul in Christian theology is traditionally thought of as the immaterial aspect or essence of a human being. You could say that the soul is the true human “self.” A house, in comparison, is of course a dwelling, a place of habitation.

Augustine describes the house (his soul) as small and therefore not easy for the Lord to come into (interestingly, Scripture says that the Holy Spirit indwells Christians: 1 Corinthians 3:16). It seems by “small” Augustine means the soul is impoverished (poor or weak). But he asks the Lord to enlarge it (make it richer and stronger).

He further relates the state of his soul as being like a house in ruins (suffering decay, collapse, or disintegration). But he asks the Lord to remake it—tantamount to a spiritual transformation.

Augustine also likens his soul to a house containing many things that are a displeasure to its maker (reflecting divine disapproval). Yet he candidly admits this reality about his soul being in disarray and doesn’t dodge his responsibility before God. Knowing and admitting to God that one’s soul (self, life) is impoverished and engaged in things that displease him is really a severe mercy (a painful gift or benefit). Sin tends to blind people to the state of their own soulish situation (Romans 1).

But Augustine then asks what appears to be a rhetorical question. Who will get rid of these things that are divinely displeasing? In other words, who will clean up the house? Well, the Lord is the maker of the soul like a builder is the maker of a house. So God will not leave the soul filled with displeasing things but will instead transform it by his grace (specifically the work of the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 6:11). That’s humanity’s great hope. Despite how messy the house may be, God chooses it as his habitation and will ultimately make it look impeccable.

Reflections: Your Turn

Does Augustine’s analogy work for you? Can you relate to his prayerful reflection? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe

  1. Augustine’s use of personal analogies regarding the Trinity in his work On the Trinity is both distinctive and somewhat controversial.
  2. For an introduction to St. Augustine and his key ideas as well as his book Confessions, see chapter three of my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.
  3. Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), Bk. 1, 5, p. 24.


About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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