by Rev. Antony W. Ball
Have you ever been tempted by something you didn’t want? It sounds to me almost a contradiction in terms – the things that tempt us are things we do want, surely? I’ve written before about how the devil is portrayed, so perhaps I should not return to it again, but when looking up ‘Clip Art’ for something to illustrate ‘temptation’, I discovered this weird painting by Flemish artist Simon Bening, dated 1530. Maybe I’m missing something (if so, please do tell me) but the devil seems to be offering Jesus something (a stone to turn into bread, presumably) which Jesus declines, of course; but just look at the devil! He’s short and scruffy and certainly not handsome. He has a bird’s foot (why?). He appears neither threatening (unless that’s a knife in his right hand) nor powerful, so what temptation is Jesus really suffering here, apart from hunger? Why does the devil appear so repulsive?
OK – having got that off my chest, let’s get back to what we can do about temptation. We can’t blame it all on Eve, of course, especially as everyone could play ‘the blame game’: God blamed Adam, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and who made the serpent? God gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose.
‘Why?’ you may ask. Well, God told Adam and Eve not to eat from that particular tree, and they disobeyed. Any parent (or teacher) wishes sometimes that children would just do as they’re told, but without the choice to disobey, children would be mindless robots – totally unable to think for themselves. They’d then grow up into adults, also totally unable to think for themselves, and the world would be populated by mindless robots – obeying God, yes, but only because they had no other option. So, as I see it, temptation is a sign of God’s love of us and respect for us. He wants us to choose to follow Jesus and temptation is a sad but inevitable consequence of us having to make that choice. Temptation is countered by God’s limitless forgiveness – He goes on forgiving us no matter how often we go on disobeying Him providing we repent (meaning we have to be truly sorry, not just saying it to get out of trouble or just as some kind of ‘insurance policy’). We can ‘tap into’ that forgiveness, and the spiritual strength that goes along with it, by developing our relationship with God, for example through worship and prayer – the better we get to know God, the more we’ll appreciate and experience His love and forgiveness.