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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Thoughts on Lent 1 and Temptation

A question of identity, a confusion of desires, a challenge to our future: these are what makes temptation so strong. It is what our Lord endured and conquered for us.

Temptation begins with a question of identity: "If you are the Son of God . . . ." Another way to say this is: "If God is really your Father . . . ." The evil one, the world, our sinful nature seek to mislead us into thinking, believing that God is not our Father--1) that he will not provide for us (first temptation); 2) that he won't protect us, that he won't keep us safe, and healthy, that he won't allay our fears (second temptation; Psalm 91); and 3) that there's another way to the same result, to argue that the end justifies the means, to live by sight and not by trust, to be an individual, to go your own way, to rebel, to reject God as Father and not be Son.

And the reason temptation is so powerful is because it confuses our desires, it disorders them. God created our desires for bread, for sex, for security and health, etc. There is a proper use of them. We may not live by bread alone, but we do live by bread. We are tempted to what appears to our natural desire by what is good (seeing that it was pleasant to the eye and good for food). And so in temptation, when our desires kick in for what is good, we abstract the desire, seeing the good in it, thinking that God created us to desire these things, and he wouldn't want me to despise his gifts, it suddenly seems all the more reasonable to indulge.

It's reasonable because we justify it as a gift from God (which is only half true). And since it is from God, or it is natural, or some other similar justification, we become convinced by the future that the world, the devil, and our sinful nature hold out to us: "You will surely not die" and "You will be like God knowing good and evil." And if we become our own gods, if we're our own masters, knowing good from evil, we are authors of our future, a new reality of what will happen.

I think that the one temptation we most struggle with is also the one that is least understood and the most overlooked. It's the second one. Who would be tempted by the challenge to cast yourself down from the temple mount? Psalm 91 is about God's protection and man's fear, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty . . . You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday" (Ps. 91:1, 5-6). That despite what it may look like, God is with him in times of trouble, and will vindicate his trust.

This temptation is another assault on God as Father and Jesus as Son. What son doesn't want to know the love and acceptance and protection of his father? For Father's not only provide by giving bread, they protect from threat and fighting for them. It is a twisting of our desire to know beyond doubt, to see and to feel that our father loves us, will protect and fight for us.

And so we look for signs of the Father's love in our own life. We point to our blessings as badges of his love and acceptance, but the crosses we avoid. Are we any different than the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel preachers? We want to find assurance in things we can measure. We try to bargain with God that "if he keeps us safe, we'll do x, y, and z." And so when our ultimate goal becomes security and protection, God becomes a means to that end. And so we test him to see if he's able to serve us in our worship of our real god--the desire to be protected and loved, the desire for that sense that everything will be alright.

The sinful world, our own sin, and the evil one work to give us a bad conscience. They work tirelessly to make us see only the evil, the gunk, the grime, the crap in our own lives and in the world. The temptations call us away from looking at the Father in order to look at ourselves.

Jesus didn't cast himself down from the temple mount because he didn't come to protect himself. He came for us.

Perhaps this is over analyzing, overly psychological. But what do you think? How does this second temptation come home to roost in your own lives? In the pastor's life, the church's life, the family's?