How many times in our lives do we causally use the phrase, “Don’t tempt me”? Probably, far more than we realize. Going back to the first man/woman story in Genesis, temptation has played a part in human reality. With it comes another temptation to lay the blame for our first indiscretion onto another, as Eve did with the serpent and with Adam, thus leading to a second indiscretion…”passing the buck”.
It’s tough to be human; there are all kinds of temptations around us and all kinds of opportunity to indulge those temptations. For example, I’ve been reading through the works of C.S. Lewis famed author of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” In addition to Lewis’ work, I’m also quite intrigued by a Lewis biography, which makes no bones about the fact that C.S. Lewis was no saint. He was tempted and more than once. One way in which he was tempted was to try and avoid serving his country on the front lines in the First World War by stretching the truth and engaging in some rather dubious manipulative stories. It didn’t work but it wasn’t from lack of trying. He’s also suspected, of having a long time relationship with the mother of one of his best friends when he was in his late teens and early 20’s. Lewis would later admit to his none to perfect self as he took this walk on the seamier side of life, while protecting the reputation of the woman in question. An amazing intellect, a thoughtful and creative writer and one of our dearest known Christian theologians, Lewis was also very, very human.
When I read the gospels, which describe the story of the devil’s effort to tempt Jesus with food and material needs, invincibility and personal safety, and finally, power and status, I realize all three, at some point in our lives are cause for temptation. After all, we are human but then, so was Jesus. We might wonder why record such an event, which outlines the temptations Jesus faces and the answer is in the question. He faces what we face. Jesus comes into the world, assumes our form, and will live life as we do even to the point where life is extinguished in death. Like you and me, Jesus shares our human nature.
In another C.S. Lewis tale entitled “The Screwtape Letters” Lewis writes on the topic of temptation. The narrator is a kingpin in the world of tempters fondly referred to as Uncle Screwtape. Screwtape is narrating the blow-by-blow, step-by-step instruction on how to be a good tempter to his young junior tempter-in-training whose name is Wormwood. It’s Wormwood’s task to “darken the heart of his ‘patient’ to train him to love things worldly and reject God, so that Wormwood may finally escort his assigned ‘patient’ into what we can only imagine is hell. The young apprentice is to keep his patient navel-gazing and self-involved, clueless about who he is and to whom he belongs. He is to keep the ‘patient’ spiritual rather than ‘practical’ as it is the practical that often brings people to God. The aim is evident: what must not happen is for the ‘patient’ to be saved from his own sinful nature. His gaze must never rest on God and he must never know God’s plan or hope for his life. Should he suspect there is another, better way to be, the intended fuel for the fires of hell might wiggle free and find his true Creator.
What’s intriguing about this tale is the fact that Screwtape and his young mentor Wormwood aren’t trying to create a world of murderers, thieves, ruthless cruel persons but rather they are creating or trying to create a clan of “people who are defined by selfishness and insincerity, pettiness and pride, fear and a need to control the things of this world.” This description seems a bit to close for comfort…closer than we might like to admit to in of our own, very real lives.
One could argue Christ certainly had the power to produce loaves of bread ad infinitum, could influence the flight of angels and affect the lives of men and women. One could argue Christ could hold sway the opinions and behavior of others, had the status, the prestige and the power to rule among the mighty and the least in the halls of royalty and in the mean streets of any city or town. He could do any of the things he was being tempted to do but he held to another choice. Though we want a Son of God who is powerful and able to do anything, such a personage would cause us to lose something, something very vital that defines our own essence and our intended humanity. Theologian Paul Tillich writes:
“We long for a Christ of power. Yet if He were to come and transform us and our world, we should have to pay the one price which we could not pay: we would have to lose our freedom, our humanity, and our spiritual dignity. Perhaps we should be happier, but we should also be lower beings, our present misery, struggle and despair notwithstanding…Those who dream of a better life and try to avoid the Cross as a way, and those who hope for a Christ and attempt to exclude the Crucified have no knowledge of the mystery of God and humanity.
So, instead, we are offered opportunities to make choices. Because we are human our choices hold the possibility of doing good or being tempted to do something, which can be harmful to us or to others. That’s what temptation is, isn’t it? We are in a season called Lent and in this season, in every season and each day, we are offered opportunities to choose goodness over evil and to ask forgiveness and receive it when the temptations of life have proved stronger than our love for the Lord of our lives. Jesus came into the world as a human being to walk our walk, share our fears and hopes, and live as we live. Like us, he was faced with not only these three temptations, but was, throughout his short life among us, compelled to use his power, his status as Son of God, to save himself. Even on the cross, he would be tempted to shake his fist at the God of love who had called him into the world and ask, “why?” but in the end and always, Jesus lived the life of one who came to save our lives. His example is our strength.
Maryetta Anschutz states it best with these words:
“Lenten penitence engages the dark place in our lives that we may come face to face with them, name them understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. It is not about guilt. It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all, about the amendment of life and new beginnings.”
May this Lent be a time of joy and release and may you, me all of us know the blessing our forgiving God. Amen.