Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fighting the Temptation to Be Selfish in Temptation

I've always thought the story of Pandora, the Greek parallel to the biblical Eve's temptation, as the reason why evil is in the world, was an interesting one. Pandora is given a box and told not to open it, but the temptation to see what was inside was too great. She had to experience the thrill of it for herself, and couldn't let it go. She opened it, and all of the evils we now experience were placed upon mankind.
In the biblical story, Eve is presented with the proposition to eat of forbidden fruit, a fruit that would bring her experience of the roller coaster provided by good and evil. The text tells us how entranced she was of the "fruit," she partakes and the world has been divorced from God's salvific presence, where death, rather than life, has reigned over all of humanity since.

Temptation itself is the offer of a fantasy world, where we can explore an impulse in the moment without consequence. All things are at our beck and call. It is the same temptation that has always been laid at our feet: if you do this, you will be like gods in that you will get to experience things as a god does. Our quest for self fulfillment is a quest for self deification.

But this is the very problem at the outset. Temptation, in our minds, is all about what we want to do and what we will be given in this fantasy world without consequence. We view temptation as something that just affects us personally. It is all about us. In our battle with temptation, then, we survey how it might personally affect us, with the result that the desire in the moment seems to outweigh the consequence in the future. After all, we'll still be saved if we hope in Christ (that much is true). So, perhaps, giving in to sin will have no lasting affect on us.

But, you see, we have already failed in thinking about temptation this way. We have already sinned by means of our narcissistic, selfish understanding of sin. The truth of the matter is that our giving into temptation always has consequences, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. You may not destroy yourself for all eternity by giving into such and such a sin, but you may in fact be the means the devil uses to destroy someone else for all eternity. You may not ruin your entire life, but you may bring to ruin someone else's.

Let me give you a biblical example. David sees an incredibly beautiful, naked woman bathing. As soon as this is said in Scripture, all of the men reading know what's going to happen here, even if they had never heard the story before. This temptation is a bit over the top for a man. He tends to lose his sense here. I think studies have shown that men actually become dumber when they are around a beautiful woman, due to desire, so a beautiful, naked woman pretty much makes a man a virtual idiot. And David does lose all sense here (which is why people say that David's first problem was idleness and walking around on his roof where he would be able to see these things).
But he lets himself become convinced of the fantasy world without consequence. He indulges, and one adultery and dead husband later, he can have the woman he desired. It cost Uriah and Bathsheba their family, but it didn't cost David much if anything at all, right? Wrong. As David destroyed a family, so his family was destroyed. His sin had a ripple affect upon his children. He had a baby son die, a son who raped his sister, a daughter who was raped (and would therefore never be married and have children), a son who murdered that son, a son who sought to murder him, a son who died in trying to do so, another son who tried to murder him, and a son who was killed for it by another son. His children and family were all but destroyed with the exception of Solomon, who was not simply because of God's promise to continue his physical line forever. But Solomon too, perhaps because of the model of his father, would not give his whole heart to God and eventually was brought into a life of destruction that would then go on to affect his sons.

You see, the devil may not be aiming at you in his temptation of you. He may, in fact, be aiming at your children. He roams around like a lion, seeking someone to devour, and lions often seek out the weakest individuals in a group. Maybe the temptation he gives you for you to blow up in anger isn't meant to destroy you, but your children? Maybe the temptation to commit adultery or divorce your spouse isn't just meant for you, but primarily targets your kids? Does that put your temptation into a different perspective?

I wonder if David were to have been presented with the reality of his sin before he committed it, if he would have committed it at all, even with such an overwhelming temptation? I wonder if God had taken him on a trip to the future, where he was still saved, but his children destroyed because of what he had done, if the reality of that future affect upon his children would have given him a massive weapon against the temptation of the moment? Reality, in terms of how our sin not only affects us, but how it also affects others, seems to be a great antidote to fantasy. We may be willing to give up the reality of consequences in the future for ourselves, but giving up reality when it comes to our children is another story altogether.

You may think it won't do much harm to yourself by giving in, but what if God were to show you the reality of how it affects your children in the future? What if you could see their spiritual lives, bodies laid out on the battle field without hope of recovery, that have been, in part, destroyed because of the sins you thought would be of no consequence to yourself? Would that reality cause you to pause, and perhaps, think twice about indulging in the fantasy? What I'm saying is that love for God (i.e., in considering how the sin affects Him and His glory in your life and in the world) and love for others (i.e., in considering how your giving into temptation will affect those around you) should be our primary means to thwart temptation, and yet, it's often not even a consideration. We think of ourselves first, and that is precisely the problem. Self focus, a love of self, will only lead to a desire to indulge in what the self wants. We may occasionally jump over the barrel in order to get to the princess at the end, but we sometimes just want to be smacked by the barrels for the fun of it (that's a Donkey Kong metaphor in case you had a life in the 80's and missed it). Temptation is really a pursuit of the self, so thinking about fighting it by pursuing the self isn't going to work, as even if you fight a specific temptation for a better you, you're still giving into the temptation to love and honor yourself above all things. We can't fight the temptation of selfishness with selfishness, but with love and sacrifice for the other.

So what I'm saying is that maybe in thinking of our sin in selfish terms (i.e., weighing the consequences of giving into temptation in terms of myself only) is already losing the battle. Maybe the temptation was to merely feed into our narcissism, and simply meant to display the selfish way we think? Maybe in thinking only of ourselves, the devil has removed any protective hedge we had around our children, exposed them bare in the field, and now can pounce and devour them as he had always planned to do. He's just occupying us with our self indulgence, but if we have our hope in Christ, he may not be targeting us at all.

Our sins may be the damnation, not of ourselves, but of our children, family members, friends, strangers; and that's a reality that is very sobering. We may still choose to damn the world in order to look into the box, but if we grow in love for God and others in our Christian lives, there is far less a chance that we will. May God make love and sacrifice for others, then, our reality. And in saving the world from the damnation of the fantasy, we may indeed be saving ourselves as well. Amen.

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