Thursday, February 4, 2010
Temptation is a discomfort and a danger which we all experience. It has become for us a part of our lives, an unshakable curse. We associate temptation closely with sin, and we are often afraid of it. Temptation is also associated with the devil and evil images... as well as hurtful words and personal experiences we would rather forget. Many times temptation itself is mistaken for a separation from Christ.
Temptation is clever, which makes it difficult for us to cope with. It strikes as the tenderest and weakest parts of our being. It creeps upon us through our only tiny entrances. One who is tenured in the battle against temptation will receive temptations much more sensitive than he who gives in at the first moment of trial. Oft-times this "cleverness" causes us to blame one of two things: ourselves or the devil.
If you have ever read "Screwtape Letters" you will be familiar with what I say here. The more we recognize the devil in our lives, the more we 'pay attention' so to speak, the more sway he will hold with us. It is better to ignore him and pray against him than to admit that he has tempted us or caused us to sin, for to do so would give him a name and an entrance. Further, if we allow thoughts of the devil to be intimately involved with thoughts of temptation, we will lose our defense over temptation. For, we must let thoughts of God strengthen us during temptation and beg for His Grace to overcome it. The devil will only make it worse through each mention of his own name.
God allows temptation because it strengthens us and brings us closer to Him. We must remember that He can turn evils to good and use our sufferings to increase our strengths. We must see temptation as a cross, our cross to bear. We must choose to carry this cross, bear it, and defeat it; so in thus doing we may more fully accomplish our vocations. Jesus chose to walk each step when He could have given into temptation at any moment... temptation in the form of good. He could have shown His glory and rejoiced for all eternity while we died... but He decided to take each step closer and closer to His painful goal. We also must continue to carry our crosses each step of the way.
Although temptation is to be carried, it is not to be tolerated. Personal holiness does not diminish temptation... but it causes temptation to hold less power with oneself. It gives us the capacity to fight with heavenly weapons against temptation and thus cause broken sticks to bloom and bear fruit. A determined faith in God and constant love is also essential for defeating temptation, for these are our motives to fight. Feelings of doubt and hate are best combated with a love of and faith in the Supreme Source of All Good.
Many times temptation to sloth and other related evils comes in the form of lack of motive. These are especially difficult to battle unless one is in the habit of drawing strength from God, because they themselves diminish our own strength to combat them. At times temptation takes the form of sinless indecision and ignorance which causes us to shirk in our duties to God, others, and ourselves.
It is very important to be able to distinguish temptation from sin. Temptation in itself can be used for good. You can often tell temptation from sin because temptation is not defined... not confessable. Other times we can distinguish it because it is not willful. However, we must distinguish it some way. Temptation causes guilt which breaks down our greatest strengths of motive and faith. It eats away at our confidence and fortitude, and paves the way for it to enter into us and corrupt our desires.
Temptation in itself is not a sin, and we must recognize it as something that can be used in the service of God. We must accept, even rejoice in carrying this one cross that so nearly relates to Christ's "step by step choice" and brings us closer to Him in love. As the Imitation of Christ puts it, those who seek to fly from temptation only fall more deeply into them; humility, patience, and faith and God are the ways of converting temptation and resisting sin. Out hearts must be conformed to bearing temptation for God's sake and striving to gain spiritual fruits through our holy efforts to show Him our lasting fealty.