When Temptation Is A Lot More Challenging Than Avoiding a Treat

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Lent are: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91: 1-2, 10-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-3. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

What tempts you?  A plate of home-baked cookies?  A new piece of jewelry or electronic device in a store window?  An opportunity to travel to an exotic faraway land? Things like that are certainly appealing, and often hard to resist.

But, now a harder question, what temptations do you face in your life that challenge you to your very core?  All human beings face deep temptations that make us question our very identity.  Some are tempted to leave the commitment of an intimate relationship to achieve more personal freedom. Others feel the temptation to not share their money with charitable organizations, keeping it to spend on things they would like.  Still others know the temptation to seek out only people who are powerful and influential as friends, ignoring any person who may be in need.   These types of temptations require more than a momentary decision to avoid. They require a commitment of faith.

Today’s Gospel reading tells us about three temptations that Jesus faced which tested his commitment to his mission.   Satan asks him to turn bread into stones, to accept dominion over the world, and to throw himself down to see if God will save him. To me these temptations represent some of the kind of big temptations we all experience:  satisfying the body’s wants,  desire for power and adulation, and attaining certainty that God will save us.  I’m sure you have faced all of them in some shape or form many, many times, just as I have–and just as everybody else who walked on this earth has. It’s hard to say which of these three are the most difficult to confront, but I want to focus on the last one, a personal challenge of mine, and I think it is also a challenge for many who work for LGBT equality in the church.

If you are like most of the people involved in LGBT church advocacy that I meet, you probably wish that you could have some certainty that the actions that you are taking are going to make a difference in the world, that God will somehow bless them with the grace of being effective.  Connected to this wish for certainty are feelings that God would show some tangible sign that our prayers are being heard, that the promise of justice and equality will take root and flower.

Unfortunately, too often that doesn’t happen.  God offers us a lot of things, but the gift of certainty about the future is never among them.  Just as God offers humanity free will to accept or reject the spiritual gifts offered, God also created humanity with the condition of not being certain about outcomes.  Besides death and taxes, what do we know that really is certain?  In place of certainty, we have to rely on faith. Faith is the alternative to certainty. As the words of the hymn say: “We walk by faith, and not by sight.”

The temptation for certainty is understandable.  Without it, all of our big decisions or important actions are going to involve a large degree of risk. Risk is not easy, but it is essential to faith.  In fact, it’s a main part of what faith in action means.  We generally think of faith as “belief,” some sort of interior assent or disposition.  I think the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had it right though:  faith is basically a leap we must make.  And without a safety net below us.

In 12 step groups, the Third Step is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”  I’m not a 12-stepper, but the spirituality offered in the program is basic spirituality applicable to all.  “To turn our will and our lives over the care of God”  is basically a leap of faith.  It means living without certainty, living a life of risk, living without the ability to control outcomes.  It means that we have to make a very basic decision.  Easy to say, very difficult to do.  Wouldn’t you rather rely on something that has some kind of guarantee or warranty connected to it?

The biggest consolation that I have when I wish for a non-existent certainty in any given situation is that Jesus experienced this dynamic, too.  In today’s Gospel story, his answers seem very pat and satisfied.  Yet, near the end of his life, on the night before his crucifixion, we see a Jesus praying in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, a Jesus who wants to know that his risk is going to do some good, a Jesus who is tempted to give it all up for a much more comfortable and predictable life.

If we are using Lent to draw into a closer relationship with God, I suggest that one of the things we should try to “give up” is our desire for certainty.  It won’t happen overnight, and like overcoming most big temptations, it will mean continuously making small decisions in particular situations.  I think it will help us all learn to rely more on our faith in God, allowing us the freedom to live a life of more risks.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

4 thoughts on “When Temptation Is A Lot More Challenging Than Avoiding a Treat

  1. Patty Morisset February 14, 2016 / 1:38 am

    Excellent reflection on Jesus in the desert, Frank. Thanks for the further depth to which you dug in this one. Patty Morisset, OP

  2. Ryan Sattler February 14, 2016 / 6:26 am

    A challenging message for the First Sunday of Lent. You offer us the “gift of uncertainty” and ask us to rely on the “faith” relationship we have with our God. I pray that I will use my faith to make those small decisions that will bring me closer to the person I am called to be. Let me live with the “gift of uncertainty” and not worry about how effective I am.

    • Thom February 14, 2016 / 2:10 pm

      What a lovely small prayer of humility, Ryan. You have really captured the essence of Frank’s insightful reflections. Thank you both.

  3. Sister Dominica Lo Bianco, OSF February 14, 2016 / 2:04 pm

    I love certainty. Thanks for this reflection to be open to the uncertain in my life.

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