God gives each one of us the freedom to choose.
The season of Lent we have just begun is a time when we examine the choices we have made in the past, and ask for wisdom to choose wisely in the present.
This freedom to choose is given so that we may freely choose God in return. If we were like robots, automatically choosing what is right, then what merit would there be in choosing what is good? We don’t applaud when an automatic door opens whenever its sensor detects movement – that’s the way the door is designed. The door has no choice – but we do. When we choose what is right, we grow in strength and grace. And when we choose wrongly, we own the consequences that follow.
Today’s readings stress the reality of choice given to us by God.
Adam and Eve were given the freedom to choose: and they chose to disobey God. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and they chose disobedience.
Jesus in the desert faces temptation like Adam and Eve. The devil promises and entices. But Jesus remains steadfast. He chose obedience.
Saint Paul writes, “through one man sin entered the world. Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
The obedience of Jesus has healed the sin of our ancestors, and continues to heal our own sins. Jesus has offered Himself as a sacrifice in our place – his obedience rights our own disobedience which mirrors the disobedience of Adam and Eve.
We too face temptation like Adam and Eve, we too face temptation like Jesus in the desert, and many times, we fall like Adam and Eve.
A temptation is an attractive and seductive suggestion that attracts us to evil, and to choose it over what is good. This suggestion is dressed in goodness – it becomes attractive to us, even if for a minute! It presents itself as the best thing for us:
“You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil. The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.”
Temptation itself is not sin: a sin is when the temptation is made a reality through our words, thoughts or actions. Temptations become sin, not when we think them, but when we give consent.
Jesus was truly tempted in the desert, he felt hunger and thirst, and the comforts Satan offered to him made him long for relief from his forty days of penance and fasting. Jesus of course as God cannot sin, but the reality of the temptations were felt by him.
Where do temptations come from? Some say that God tests us through temptation so strengthen us, but can an infinitely good God tempt us?
The answer is simple: God cannot tempt us… God cannot suggest to you and me to do something bad, to choose what is evil. So whenever one feels tempted, it cannot come from God.
So where do they come from?
They come from the devil: the perverted being who wants to derail us by not choosing God. We hear his voice in our minds as he tries to trick us, and move us away from God. He wants us to join him in his disobedience to God’s will.
Temptations also come from the world in which we live. Bad friends, bad conversations, bad images, the places we visit, the internet, etc.
Finally, temptations come from ourselves. Our memory can be our worst enemy when we are trying to build better habits, and abandon bad ones. Oftentimes we don’t need either the devil nor the world tempt us – we do it ourselves.
God cannot tempt us, but permits temptation so that our freedom is strengthened. We grow closer to God when we choose what is good. If we did not face temptation, life would be very easy. We’d be like the automatic door that is programmed to open as soon as it senses motion. There is no merit there.
We pray that this Lent, we may choose what is good and right; that God will give us the grace to resist temptation, that we may see the attraction to evil as what it truly is: a derailing of our relationship with God.
Picture from the public domain. Information here.