Letter to Dan J. Russ, continued…
“Lead us not into temptation.” This one is just confusing. Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation? Doesn’t the Bible say, “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one?” (James 1:13) Then why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation? Look a little more closely. We are not asking God not to tempt us. We are asking God not to lead us into temptation.
Well, isn’t it the same thing? Not at all. In fact, the Greek verb involved here is “eispherein” which means to “carry into” or “bring into.” In the Gospel of Mark we read that immediately after His baptism in the Jordan the Holy Spirit, Jesus was thrown into the desert to be tempted by the devil. If we Christians are correct. The Holy Spirit is God. Isn’t He tempting us? What can all this possibly mean?
The text form St. James continues: “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” God doesn’t have to tempt us. The devil doesn’t even have to tempt us. We can do that all on our own. It’s like a parent who brings a small child into the kitchen where a beautiful cake is sitting on the counter. The parent then leaves the room for a moment and when that parent returns, the cake is a pulverized mess and the child is a chocolate smudge covered with crumbs.
Then Mommy or Daddy asks did you eat that cake? And Junior says through chocolate stained lips, “No!” Junior is not only a pastry thief; he also gives evidence that he has a shaky grip on reality. Junior's true character is evident to everyone but Junior. So it was with Adam and Eve. Did you eat the fruit of the tree which I forbad you?” asked God. “Eve made me do it,” said Adam. “The devil made me do it,” said Eve. God allows us to expose ourselves to temptation and we do the rest.
Why is there temptation in the first place? Simple, we are like Adam and Eve and Junior all rolled into one. It’s not our fault! It most certainly is our fault, and until we can admit that to ourselves, God will refrain from intervening in our lives.
God, in His great humility will not compel us to be moral, but as soon as we admit our weakness He is swift to forgive and swift to help. The most interesting thing to me about the text is that the word for temptation — “peirasmon” in Greek — is exactly the same as the word for test. God may not tempt us, but He allows us to be tested. God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1Cor 10:13.
Confession is good for the soul. People ask me, “Why should I go to confession? I don’t do anything really bad.” Then they confess the sins of their friends, relatives, spouses and children. I remember the story of an old priest who was a bit short with a faithful penitent. She knelt in the darkened confessional and said, “Bless me Fadder, I got no sins. I come fer da graces.” (She spoke fluent Southside Chicagoan) The old priest said, “No sins, no graces!” and slammed the little confessional window shut. True story. He could have been a bit more pastoral, but his theology was spot on.
God will not deal with unconfessed sin. By that I mean He will not forgive a sin we don’t admit. A lot of confessions go like this: “Bless me Father, I got no sins, but my wife, she makes me drink.” Until we are ready to admit our sins, God allows us to tie His hands. I suspect that our spouses, our families, our neighbors and our friends could make a better confession for us than we can for ourselves. “I’m a nice guy. I get along with everybody. I don’t commit any big sins, maybe just a white lie now and then.”
Ask those around you. They’ll probably agree with you because they are afraid of your explosive temper and vindictive nature. If you could be a fly on the wall, you might hear things like, “Boy, that guy has a hair trigger temper. He’s so tight he squeaks. Trying to get some help from him is like trying to steal a bone from a junkyard dog.” Talk to his wife. “He’s sullen and never talks to me. I feel like a doorknob in an unfurnished room when he’s around.” We have a very high opinion of ourselves and rarely do we deserve it.
Why do we go to confession week after week? Hopefully, if we go often enough we will hear ourselves and realize that we really are sinners. Then the Lord can forgive and change us, but the Lord has such a high regard for the freedom He gave us that He won’t take anything from us that we don’t freely give Him and this includes our sins.
We are adept at lying to ourselves. I remember the story of a very devoted missionary who was a member of Christian group that allowed its ministers to marry. This fellow was absolutely devoted to the mission on which he was sent that he never married so as to have freedom to go to poorest and most dangerous mission outpost. He had a budget from his church that would allow him to live decently, but he hired no staff or servants, wanting to live simply for the sake of the Gospel.
In this mission outpost there was a poor girl who was considered too stupid for meaningful employment, so this minister decided to hire her with the allowance he had been given. She was more a hindrance than a help, but he didn’t mind. There were a number of other missionaries and their wives in the district and one day this devout minister decided to invite them all to his poor parsonage for an afternoon of reflection and then fellowship. He planned a meal that would resemble dinner back home, an orderly presentation of soup, salad, main course and dessert, just like back in the States.
For days, he coached this poor girl in the right way to serve a western style meal. When the great day came and were seated for a luxurious dinner, the poor local girl brought the ice cream out first and the soup out last. All the arduous preparation and all the tension of the past few days of preparation were wasted. The overwrought minister lost his temper, went out to the kitchen and struck the girl. He struck her again and again and again until she fell dead at his feet. He committed murder just feet from the horrified fellow ministers who rushed into the kitchen at the sound of commotion, too late to save the girl. The minister was a murderer.
Had you asked his congregation that morning, “Is your pastor a murderer?” they would have looked at you in disbelief. They would have said, “No, he’s the best the home office has ever sent.” Had you asked his coworkers that morning, “Is your colleague a murderer?” They would have laughed and said, “No, he’s the best of us.” Had you asked the minister himself, “Are you a murderer,” he would have said, “I beg your pardon! What!?!”
No one would have thought him a murderer, but he was a murderer in the morning just as surely as he was a murderer that night. He was a murderer who had not yet committed murder. So it is with us. We are adulterers who have not yet committed adultery or thieves who have not yet stolen. We hide these crimes in our heart and, usually because of our cowardice, we never commit them. We hide our sins from ourselves by our religion, though we can seldom hide them from our friends and can never hide them from our God.
God allow us to be tested not so that He can know what’s in our heart. He already knows. He allows us to test ourselves so that we can know our hearts and give them to Him. When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are really saying, “Lord, let me admit my sinfulness without having to be exposed to the opportunity to sin. May I admit my weakness and failure without having to do it the hard way?”
If we refuse to be honest then heaven holds a mirror in front of us. Heaven does not cause the deformity we see. Heaven simply allows us to see what it sees and even then some of us refuse to be honest. It’s not my fault. Keep saying it to yourself. Prisons are full of men who insist they are not guilty, and I expect the only song lyric sung in the noise of hell is, “It’s not my fault.”