During the Season of Lent, the United Church in Meadowood (UCiM) will be engaging line by line with the Lord’s Prayer. This week’s exploration has delved into the fourth line of the prayer. I hope, therefore, that these Lenten blogs, honour those faithful conversations, which are occurring within our community of faith.
It’s amazing how a well-paced prayer, engaged with intention, leads us to places that force reflection; perhaps cause us to hold breath tightly as we put our self into the import of the words we utter. The fifth line of the Lord’s Prayer certainly does that! Temptation & evil: words that hold the Christian psyche to account and which – if left unexamined – can lead to bad theology at the least and harm at worst …
This prayer is the beginning of problems we would never have had had we not met Christ and enlisted with Christ’s people. The forces of evil do not relinquish their territory without a fight and that is you.
Willimon & Hauerwas, Lord Teach Us, 89
A blog about temptation and evil is – well – not possible. A book perhaps … so let’s just muse about the word temptation and see where that takes us …
There’s lots of ways to tackle the word. I thought that I would start with the Greek. The Greek word πειρασμός” (peirasmos) has a few translation possibilities that include temptation, testing, trial, experiment. Its traditional use – temptation – however seems to be inconsistent with James 1.12-15 at which point we are told that God does not tempt people as some test to pass.
This insight brought me back to last week’s blog about Forgiveness and – in particular – the question of agency. When this prayer references temptation, what are we asking? To whom are we speaking? If James’ challenge does not point to God or the external, I find myself looking inward and wondering whether the agency or act of temptation refers to the choices we make, as opposed to an external agent – God for instance. The former certainly reinforces a sense of responsibility and self-knowing, whereas the latter seems to lead to a puppet-string reality that does not appear all that life-affirming or loving.
This might seem like an aside, but I’ve been playing Role Playing Games for a while. I was first introduced to them as a young boy at a community centre in an area in Ottawa called the Glebe. Think ‘choose-your-own-story’ opportunity with a group of 4-6 others in which you are the heroes. I was playing a Paladin – think White-Knight type – and he was being tested by some nefarious creature and my character’s perception of reality was not necessarily 100%. In order to stay a White Knight, however, I had to be consistent in my responses to the test or temptations. In other words, the intention of the character was more important than the tests themselves. The agency of that character was internal in nature though he was responding to an external context. Who would have thought that a game as a young teen could have moral and ethical implications!
As I muse about the fifth line of the Jesus Prayer, I believe that temptation does not mean that God may or may not test us and that, in turn, those tests determine our worthiness – vis-à-vis sin – to get a bus pass to heaven! Rather, keeping James in mind, I think it’s about knowing our own stuff and claiming that. Without some intention, we can certainly enter fall into the habitual practices that – small step by small step – lead to bad choices. Choices that eventually compound and can certainly lead to individual brokenness and collective and corporate acts of evil (maybe next Lent we’ll talk about evil …).
Too often Christianity seems to be portrayed in a manner that detracts from encouraging us to claim our full potential as Children of God. To be so emboldened requires work, digging deep and understanding our triggers, the things that we want and keep us from shining. God’s Creation is abundant and – to quote Florida Scott-Maxwell – we are called to be ‘fierce in reality.’ And to do so we must first recognise those temptations to which we are susceptible!