Jesus had just been baptized, complete with the Spirit appearing as a dove and a direct attestation from Go. That same Spirit told him to go out into the desert where he would be for a fairly significant period of time. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days (40 consecutive days, unlike our Lent which is 40 days but excludes Sundays). While he was there he was subjected to some temptations which, had he given in, would have eased his situation and given him power over the earth or so he was promised.
Jesus had feelings, emotions, thoughts, and fears; he would have had to or his human experience would have been totally and fatally flawed. He was the Son of God, yes, but on earth as a Jewish male, not a god.
For us, temptations crop up with great regularity: buy this, get that, avoid this, lose weight because you’re always too fat no matter what, keep up with the Joneses or you’ll be considered a loser. We get temptations and some of them we can do without but some we succumb to. We’re human and humans are subject to temptations. Jesus’ temptations were about his being human and more. Having been in a human body for 30 years, he had to have gone through a lot of things that we go through, little temptations like eating a little too much a meal or drinking a little too much wine, doing something that maybe shouldn’t be done but is done anyway. With his own temptations, Jesus showed how we should react to our own.
Every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, we always pray “… Lead us not into temptation…” That always seems to be a puzzle to me. In the theology of my childhood church, God gives us trials to check our faith, to see if we succumbed to weakness or whether we were strong in our faith. If someone got cancer, it was God’s will, it was God’s test of their faith, regardless of the outcome. If a child died, it was God’s will and a test of the parent’ strength of belief. No matter what came along, if it wasn’t great and wonderful and terrific it was a test from God. Wait a minute. Wasn’t something like this covered in the book of Job?
Job lived a righteous life; he was a good guy. Suddenly, based on a sort of celestial contest, Job lost everything that made his life enjoyable and productive. His health was taken from him, most of his family were killed, and all his possessions were taken away because of a bet. Job was a pawn in an apparent struggle between the Adversary and God, to see if Job the righteous would become Job the unrighteous. He passed the test and of course was able to regain everything he’d lost including more children, more wealth, more livestock, more everything. I realize that Job is an allegory but so much of the theology that I was taught as a child and even some that I hear today is dependent on this as a test from God. Job passed that test because he never denied God, he never got angry with God, he never did anything wrong. God rewarded his faithfulness.
This is hard for me to comprehend now. If someone gets cancer, is that a test from God to see how strong their faith is? A job gets lost and with it a family’s stability is lost also; is that a test from God? It is far above my pay grade to really say yes or no, but as I grow older the more I wonder what is it that I actually believe about this. How can I say …”lead us not into temptation …” or the new version, …” save us from the time of trial…” when I don’t believe God actually leads us into temptation or a time of trial just to check and see if were going to pass the faithfulness test. I would venture to say most if not all of us would fail miserably.
I can look at Jesus. He was as Paul said, was “…in all points tempted like as we are, …” (Heb. 4:15b). That’s what makes the crucifixion and resurrection so incredible. Yet am I supposed to believe that Jesus death on the cross was God’s will and pretty much the sole reason Jesus had to go through Good Friday’s agony? That’s pretty hard pill to swallow.
As I grow older my questions grow. Not that I don’t believe; I believe very strongly in the crucifixion and resurrection and humanity of Jesus as well as his divine nature. But what I can’t believe is that this is a test from God or that a lot of things that we hear other people say about “Oh well, it was God’s will” or “God is testing our faith”. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. Perhaps I’m not supposed to. Perhaps the test is to see if I can still rely on God and yet solve my own problems without assigning blame to someone else. I don’t think my cancer was sent by God, but it strengthened my bond with God and it also taught me that I have more strength maybe than I thought I did.
We aren’t as strong as Jesus; we succumb all the time. Where I think the lesson is in what we do if we give in and what’s the outcome. Does it bring us closer to God or separate us further from God? That’s the real question we have to answer, and answer directly to God. God doesn’t require it, but is always ready and waiting to listen.
Image: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons