I happened to indulge in a snatch of Amy Carmichael this week, reading a few lines here and there while waiting for the Internet to work faster. There are always too many interruptions to really stop and think, or so I was probably hoping.
For a couple of lines Amy was worried about falling into temptation. In fact, she was praying fervently that she might not be tempted. What bad thing was she wishing she could avoid doing? I read a few more lines and found that it was indeed something really evil, like not trusting God enough, or not meditating enough on the cross. You know, one of those really bad sins.
Those few lines happened to coincide during the week with me getting through the account of the golden calf in Exodus (I am so so so behind in my reading plan) and Luke’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Which is a funny juxtaposition because with the golden calf it’s hard even to see the struggle. It’s a brilliant example of That Escalated Quickly. There isn’t any time to be ‘tempted.’ Moses goes up the mountain and the people throw up their hands and go, ‘well, I guess that didn’t work out,’ and before you can say, ‘stop it,’ there’s a golden calf all gleaming and new.
It is really a good picture of how much the modern person is worried about temptation. That same day, before I happened to pick up my long abandoned copy of Amy Carmichael I read a lot of other Christianish stuff. Some more current writing which, you might say, was not very deep, and was, well, in the usual way, all about all the stuff that Jesus could give you if only you would follow his special secret instructions to open yourself up to the divine and start hearing his hidden voice in your heart. The kinds of things he was going to give you, if only you would be in the right place, all receptive and ready, were happiness and peace and the complete absence of difficulty. Stuff that really isn’t promised anywhere in the Bible, but is the stuff that we Christians are pretty desperate to have.
I mean, worry about falling into temptation isn’t a thing, much. Worry about being sad and lonely is a much greater anxiety for the average Christian, myself included. In fact, I sat and tried to remember the last time I had fervently prayed, and not just in the mumbling of the Lord’s Prayer as it passes me by on Sunday, to not fall into temptation. Or really prayed that I might become more holy and more trusting. I scrolled away from the golden calf and clicked on Luke to read about Jesus, similarly sweating it out in the wilderness.
He’s there without any food for forty days and then Satan comes and hits him where it hurts–his hunger, his authority, the fact that no one is going to recognize who he is and what he’s doing. Where Israel quickly and unthinkingly fell into sin–not bothering to pass through temptation even, which indicates some kind of waiting period, but rushing headlong into complaining about the bread, rejecting the land, worshipping whatever image they could get their hands on–Jesus stood still, upright, not falling, not grasping, not taking, but enduring in trust to the end. In fact, he knows his bible so well he is able to rebuke Satan with actual bible verses.
I went back and read more snatches of Amy and felt guilty. My Christian vision is so limited. The things that I worry about are so material, so temporal, so insipid. How would I even know I was facing temptation when the thing I’m most worried about is having enough time to sit down and eat bread, or sit down and watch cat videos, or go to bed on time, or not be inconvenienced by other people? Withstanding the assaults of the enemy which are sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious–the temptations to despair, to selfishness, to distrust, to unkindness, to short temper, to neglecting prayer, to inattention to the scriptures, to insulating myself from the needs and concerns of others–is not even on my long list of all the important things. It doesn’t keep me up at night. I don’t pray about it as with tears.
And there’s no way I’m alone in this. Don’t wag your head over me. I am the usual Christian, not the unusual one.
On the other hand, it is meant to be a comfort that the tabernacle is built after the law is given, after the people have fallen. They break the law as the law is being given (it’s uncanny how perfectly they break it) but they aren’t left without a remedy for sin. The Tent is built. The sacrifices are offered. And much later Jesus walks in and gathers it all up in himself.
There’s a way out, a way to be saved, a way to not fall so completely and so often. But not even being at the place of worrying about it, that’s the place to begin, that’s the first temptation to overcome–the complete lack of anxiety about falling into temptation. Pray about that. Ask for help about that. Replace anxiety about comfort and happiness with anxiety about sin and holiness. Those kinds of prayers God always answers. Happy Sunday!