Augustine 2020: What About Evil in the Earthly City?
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Augustine now turns his attention more specifically to the city of God and begins with a fascinating discussion of that city’s first citizens, the angels. He deals with a variety of questions such as the creation of angels , each of which would theologically challenge us to go deeper in our reflections on angels. For our purposes, we are going to look at how God judges angels and what he does with those who stand against Him which Augustine will use as a model for how God judges the earthly city. I recognize angels and demons are not prevalent in our theological thought. I will confess that I, too, rarely think about the subject. Rather than try to answer our questions with Augustine’s answers, we are going to listen to what he says. In this discussion, I am going to assume the existence of angels and demons instead of defending their existence nor will I engage in a detailed discussion of what they are. I am also going to assume that their activities in this world affect our political processes without getting into the details of exactly how that happens . What I want to say here is that we should not associate the activities of demons with particular parties or particular candidates we disagree with nor associate the work of angels with those that we do. Remember, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” . Because evil is present in our political systems in the forms of racism, greed, and violence of all kinds, we want to know, what does God have to say about those things?
The first thing we need to say, though it is the last thing Augustine says in Book XI, is that God judges evil and the angels who commit evil. “It is certain that angels sinned and were thrown down to the lowest parts of the world where they are imprisoned until their final damnation on the day of judgment” . He directs us to the words of St. Peter: “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment” . God clearly distinguishes between what is evil and what is good, and between what angels commit evil and angels who practice what is good. If God has judged and condemned evil, then we as Christians do not need to fear evil when it is present in our political systems. When a political policy does not work in our favor, and even works against us, and works on behalf of evil, we do not need to fear for God has already condemned it. Its victory is temporary and we rest in the assurance that God will not let it have the last word. He uses his people to address instances of evil and when our best efforts fall short, we trust God will honor our faithfulness and in His timing, the victory of Jesus over evil will be consummated. As we mentioned earlier in this series, we do not vote out of a sense of fear of what will happen to us . As we engage in politics, we must resist evil as followers of the source of all goodness and, as we also saw earlier, it is better for a city to be more just than unjust . But we should never fear for no matter our actions, evil is already condemned by God and will not win the day, as Peter himself goes on to say, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” .
Second, Augustine points out that while evil is in the world, it is not outside of God’s control and He uses it for His purposes. “Just as God is the supremely good creator of good natures, so he is the most just ruler of evil wills, so that even though evil wills make an evil use of good natures, God makes a good use of evil wills” . Augustine here draws on the words of St. Paul: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” . Not only should Christians not fear the presence of evil in our political systems, but we should also expect God to accomplish good both through it and despite it. God remains in control and He works in surprising ways, achieving our salvation and the victory of Christ’s resurrection by going through the violent injustice of the crucifixion . Christ won our salvation and the restoration of His creation through an instrument of evil and injustice. Whenever we see evil in our world, Christians should be eagerly wondering, “What is God going to do through this?” just as he did in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to be careful to not rush to easy answers to this question , but it is the question we need to grapple with in the face of evil and, as Christians, once we discern what God is up to, we need to go to the very same place He is and serve as His tools, witnessing to the redemptive love of Christ. What could Christian political engagement look like if Christians contributed to the political process, not out of a sense of fear, but excitement over what good work God is going to do in our world, even in the face of evil? I pray each of us lean into this motivation and begin to cast a vision, together, for this kind of political engagement.
 Augustine, Augustine: Political Writings, trans. Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994), pp. 78-79.
 See Scott Carr, Jr. “Augustine 2020: The Spiritual Political Struggle,” Reimagine Faith, August 11, 2020, https://www.reimaginefaith.org/post/augustine-2020-the-spiritual-political-struggle.
 Ephesians 6:12 NRSV.
 Augustine, p. 81.
 2 Peter 2:4.
 Scott Carr, Jr. “Augustine 2020: Political Puzzle Pieces,” June 30, 2020, https://www.reimaginefaith.org/post/augustine-2020-political-puzzle-pieces.
 Augustine, p. 32, Scott Carr, Jr. “Augustine 2020: But Great Robber Bands,” July 21, 2020, https://www.reimaginefaith.org/post/augustine-2020-but-great-robber-bands.
 2 Peter 2:9.
 Augustine, p. 80.
 Romans 8:28.
 See Scott Carr, Jr. “Sermon: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Romans 8:28-39,” Reimagine Faith, July 3, 2020, https://www.reimaginefaith.org/post/sermon-he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not-romans-8-28-39.
 See Scott Carr, Jr. “Review: God and the Pandemic by N. T. Wright,” Reimagine Faith, June 26, 2020, https://www.reimaginefaith.org/post/review-god-and-the-pandemic-by-n-t-wright.