We moved on to temptation in our look at James last Sunday in church. My failure to resist temptation is a frequent cause for crossness, so this is a topic which is close to my heart!
I have always found temptation to be both clichéd and predictable and this makes it so much more galling when I succumb. To be frank, the temptations that catch me out are seldom novel or original.
However, we are all tempted, even Jesus was tempted, and the temptations we face range from the small and seemingly trivial to the monstrous, from the white lie to the serious crime.
Nor is temptation to be taken lightly: I believe that the fact that it is given a specific treatment in the Lord’s Prayer is telling.
But I also believe that, the fact that we are tempted, points to something profoundly important. Temptation is the flip-side of something special in our nature, as free thinking, God-imaged beings. Let me try and explain…
James tells us that God does not tempt, nor is he tempted: he does not want us to fail. However, he does permit it, he tolerates it. Why?
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
James 1 v 13-14
That sounds a bit difficult to be honest. How can an all-powerful God allow something bad?
One point to make: we often confuse tolerate with condone but I have found nothing in scripture that suggests the Lord approves of temptation or condones it. He allows it to happen and he tolerates it but he does not encourage it.
Still uncomfortable with a God who is able to prevent temptation but chooses to tolerate it? I am! It really messes my life up.
However, if we are to have free will, I believe temptation is a necessity.
To be able to have the freedom to choose the right thing, we need to be able to choose the wrong. What is more, in order to make that choice meaningful and that freedom meaningful, the desire to choose the wrong thing needs to be at least as compelling as the desire to choose the right thing.
I realise this may not be the most rigorous thinking, but I find it useful! I take confidence from the fact that I am tempted to do bad things. It is evidence of a genuine spiritual battle and evidence that I am not just a very sophisticated (humour me) robot.
I know that while temptation may cause me a lot of trouble, God tolerates it because it allows me to choose freely and love freely. It is evidence that I am truly free.
Lord, I am assailed
from within and without;
self-doubt and loathing,
disrespect and insult.
The world closes in,
and would consume me.
I am sinking
yet will not drown.
For you endured all this
and much more,
scourged and whipped,
humiliated and killed,
yet rising victorious,
to demonstrate the paradox
of strength through weakness,
love conquering all.
I am weak
but through the grace of Christ
I am strong
we shall overcome.