Temptation is an old theme in scripture. It is also the place where the story often starts. Right after humanity is created, the first humans are tempted in the Garden. Right after Jesus is baptized, he is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. Temptation is a true/false sort of test, Adam and Eve failed and Jesus passed. There really is no halfway with temptation, you resist or your give in. God is certainly not beyond allowing these pop quizzes. The story of Job begins with what seems like an almost casual encounter between God and “the accuser” i.e. Satan. Satan proposes a test and God agrees. In previous weeks, I’ve pointed out how the manna was a test of the Hebrew people to see if they could resist the temptations of greed, control and lust for power (they didn’t always get passing marks).
But the question Eric posed lingers, does God actually lead us into temptation. Satan is a clever literary construction to avoid placing the blame directly on God. Still, unless you want to claim that God doesn’t have the power to stop it, you pretty much have to agree that Satan only has authority that God allows. That is how the relationship appears in the story of Job. Although, in the Eden story and the Temptation of Jesus, God is conspicuously absent, with the tempter working hard to trip up the adversary. I suppose we should be grateful that God didn’t choose to create automatons, so we have the opportunity to take (and too often fail) these tests. Critical to our understanding of Jesus is to see that he passed the test, showing us that it is possible for humans to resist temptation. Heck, he even took the test under extremely adverse conditions. Adam and Eve had everything they wanted, living in the lap of luxury. Theirs was effectively an open book test…and they still couldn’t pass. Jesus was sent by God into the wilderness and deprived of food for forty days…but he had done his homework and was able to quote from the assigned texts for the class and pass with flying colors!
In many ways, the Temptation of Jesus is more like the temptation the Hebrews faced in the wilderness with the manna test. In both cases they had multiple opportunities to learn to trust God so that they were prepared to create God’s reign on earth. The Exodus to the Promised Land was a tangible kingdom where God was expected to be in charge. Jesus helped us understand that God’s reign was intangible but still very much real, and already present!
So when we pray not to be brought to the test and to be delivered from the evil one, that is, the devil (my translation of the prayer, I’ll spare you the Greek for a change), we are asking God for a break. We know that we are Adam and Eve more than we are Jesus. We are also the Hebrews not trusting and building up wealth and power instead of trusting God’s provision. We are admitting that we are wandering still in the wilderness and all we really want is to be grounded, quite literally given some ground, in the Promised Land. We have already prayed in the prayer to have God’s reign arrive in real and tangible ways around us, here again we are asking to be part of it. Of course that is asking risky stuff yet again. If we want to be delivered from the evil one, we have to trust God, we have to let Jesus take the test for us. It is like having a lightning rod to protect you. Not only does a lightning rod not prevent lightning, it attracts it! But, the lightning rod is grounded, so the powerful and dangerous electricity passes right through from the air to the ground without doing damage. Since we are pretty sure that we can’t pass the temptation tests on our own, we have to trust the one who always passes to keep us safe.