The value of Temptations in the Spiritual Life
Thomas, à Kempis in his Classic, The Imitation of Christ avers,“AS LONG as we live in this world we cannot escape suffering and temptation. Hence it is written in Job: ‘The life of man upon earth is a warfare and temptation.’ Everyone, therefore, must guard against temptation and must watch in prayer lest the devil, who never sleeps but goes about seeking whom he may devour, find occasion to deceive him. No one is so perfect or so holy but he is sometimes tempted; man cannot be altogether free from temptation.” On every First Sunday of the Lenten season, the Church invites us to renew our commitment to the struggle or combat against the three primary sources of snares in our spiritual life. That is the concupiscence of the flesh, pride/power and ego/possession. Jesus’ three temptations address each of the source of the snares respectively. The foregoing three sources of incitements are within each of us unlike Christ that none exist in Him because He was born without Original Sin and its effects. However, in order to completely identify with us in our humanity He had to accept temptations from the Devil. More so, He accepted to be tempted in order to enlighten our hearts, minds, souls and spirits on how to acknowledge and handle temptations in our life of grace or the spiritual life. The question is: How can we benefit from our temptations?
Self-awareness: When tempted, we experience our weakness and powerlessness and it heighten our need for grace through prayers, fasting and almsgiving. Temptations reveal the interior of our hearts. As we continue to work hard to grow in the life of grace, temptations expose to us the degree of our knowledge of self. Our primary goal is to love and serve God but we can only love God intimately if we know ourselves. So, temptations state where our loyalty lies; whether in ourselves as self-worship, in the world or the Devil.
Defining and maintaining our identity: In the temptation episodes between Jesus and the Devil, the Devil confronts Jesus with questions on His identity; “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread”; “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:3,9). The Devil knows that a distortion of the identity of Jesus is a disconnection of Jesus from His Mission and the fulfilment of His purpose. Hence, today Christians are battling with identity issues in all areas of human endeavour. So, every time we surmount a temptation, we confirm our identity as children of God and ambassadors of Christ.
Growth in virtue: A good response to temptations result in virtues. For instance, the first virtue produced in a soul that is tempted and with good response is humility. The soul in temptation discovers his/her weakness, powerlessness and miseries. If such soul surrenders to the ways and will of God for assistance, then he/she will merit graces, virtues and abundant favours. A key blessing in perspective is humility. Once humility is implanted in a soul other virtues are bound to grow and flourish. St. James says, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various temptations, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
In conclusion, we need to accept the fact that temptations though permitted by God, they are not bad per se. It is our responses that determine them as helpful or harmful. On the part of God, He does not allow us to be tempted beyond our capacity and will. Therefore, let us learn from Jesus and acknowledge and appreciate our temptations properly. To do so, Jesus teaches us to have total confidence in God and to know the Word of God by heart.
- Do you find yourself tempted all the time?
- How do you handle your temptations?
- How do you know when to respond or when to flee from these thoughts toward temptations and sin?
Prayer: Our Father, who art in Heaven, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, Amen
Fr. John-Mary Atep