Jesus Tempted in the Desert - Part 2: Temptation as wound within not evil 'out there'
What is the Process of Temptation?
I don’t believe the cause of temptation is external. Rather, I believe it stems from an inner wound. There are times we feel lonely, unworthy, rejected or powerless, and these feelings aren’t pleasant. At times, they may even be torturous, so it’s natural for us to want to eliminate them. In a misguided attempt to end this pain we seek out a quick fix. We give into temptation.
Unfortunately, temptation promises one thing but delivers another. It promises to stop our pain but instead, merely numbs it. Then, when the effect wears off, the pain returns with a vengeance. Why? Because giving into our temptation did not address the root cause of the pain.
What’s more, such temporary ‘painkillers’ come with side-effects that cost us dearly. If someone eats an entire family-size block of Cadbury’s chocolate in one sitting (not naming names), they end up feeling sick. If someone gambles away all the rent money, they experience the anxiety of potential eviction.
Broadening our Understanding of Temptation
Not all temptations are as obvious as drinking too much, overeating or gambling. There are many other types. For example, the temptation to:
rescue someone instead of allowing them to make their own mistakes and grow
say no to new opportunities due to a fear of change or fear of failure
worry excessively instead of relying on God
run away before something gets too hard
act out of impatience because God appears to be taking too long
feed negative thinking
give in to apathy
keep so busy we never stop to experience God’s presence.
My own experience of temptation
When I was in high school, economics was my favourite subject and my economics teacher was my favourite teacher. He was charming, funny and entertaining. He also liked to make fun of his students, and because he hid behind the veil of humour, none of us saw any harm in this – not unless we were the target of his ‘jokes’.
About half way through Year 11, I became his target. According to my diary, every lesson he would make a crack about my messy hand writing. Every lesson. For a perfectionist like me, this was humiliating. This went on for the remainder of the year and for the whole of the following year. As a consequence, economics went from being my favourite subject to being my most hated subject. I dreaded every lesson, wondering what horrible zinger my teacher would come up with next.
I wanted to let him know how his behaviour was impacting on me, but I didn’t feel I could do it while I was still at school. He had too much power over me. So I vowed that once I’d graduated, I would send him a letter. I needed to express how I felt and I wanted to protect future students from his harassment. But when the time came, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In other words, I succumbed to the temptation of peace at any price.
And I did pay a price. I carried the harassment inside me.
Not surprisingly, as time passed, I continued to meet people with a similar personality; people who treated me in a similar way. It was many years before I came to the realisation that the price of silence in the face of disrespect was not worth paying. When I spoke up the first time, my life changed in both subtle and significant ways. The main difference was that I found it much easier to be myself. The act of acknowledging my inner wound and then taking action kickstarted the process of healing.
So how do we handle temptation – in whatever form it strikes us – when we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness?
Thankfully, Jesus’ experience provides us with a blueprint. This blueprint will be explored in the final part of this blog series, Part 3: Jesus Tempted in the Desert: Lessons from the Wilderness.