As the Lenten season has begun, we recall the Temptation of Jesus and his successful withstanding of the Devil’s worst. A few thoughts occur:
The Spirit directs Jesus, even impels him, out into the wilderness (a place of deprivation and discomfort, even danger and death) with the express purpose of subjecting him to temptation by the arch-tempter. The whole story is, one might say, counter-intuitive.
Félix Joseph Barrias
This episode, I think, sheds light on the correct way to read the strange passage in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It is rendered better nowadays—and in the light of this story—something like this: “Do not lead us into trial/test/temptation without delivering us from the Evil One.”
The petition is not, therefore, that God keeps bad times from us. The request instead is that God, when bad times come, will help us survive them, and even thrive through them.
The first chapter of the Epistle of James, along with parallels in Paul’s and Peter’s epistles, assumes that we will encounter temptations and trials and tests (usually the same word group in Greek). In fact, these painful times are apostolically understood to be part of the regimen of sanctification under the providence of God. As such, they are to be undergone with joy that is based on trust in God’s care and hope for a good outcome after this difficult discipline.
We are to expect to walk sometimes through the valley of the shadow of death—but not alone. We are to expect difficult times, but also to expect—to truly expect—that God will provide protection from failure and faithlessness, and instead will turn even the worst moments into blessings. This is Christian hope: not wishful thinking, but confident expectancy that God’s creative and re-creative power triumphs not only over, but through, all things.
As today’s tests try you, press you, pressure you, and prompt you to decide once more whether you truly trust God, and whether you do want to conform yourself, and be conformed, still more into the image of his Son, then don’t be surprised, let alone dismayed, that you will walk the path Jesus walked: into the wilderness at times, into the very teeth of the worst trials of your life, but not alone.
And only for good reason.