Temptations: Why the Lord Jesus Wishes Us to Have Temptations

by admin on March 11, 2012

THE Lord your God tempts you, that it may be made manifest whether ye love him or not with your whole heart and your whole soul, says the Holy Spirit in Deuter­onomy (xiii. 3). The blessed St. Augustine raises a ques­tion on those words. How, he says, does Holy Scripture say that God tempts us; and on the other hand the Apostle St. James says in his canonical epistle (i. 13) : God tempt­eth no manl He answers that there are two ways of tempt­ing. One is to deceive and make fall into sin, and in that way God tempts no man, only the devil, whose office it is so to do, according to what the Apostle St. Paul says: Let it not be that the tempter hath tempted you (I Thess. iii. 5); where the gloss says, “that is, the devil, whose office it is to tempt.” Another way of tempting there is, to prove and gain experience of a person, and in this way it is that Holy Scripture says that God tempts and proves us. And in Genesis (xxii. 1) it is said: God tempted and proved Abraham. The Lord gives us a touch, and many touches, that we may know and understand that that is the measure of our love and fear of God. And so the same God said thereupon to Abraham, when he put his hand to the knife to sacrifice his son: Now I know that thou fearest God (Gen. xxii. 12); that is, as St. Augustine explains: “Now I have made thee know that thou fearest God.” Thus, while there are some temptations sent us by the Lord from His own hand, there are others permitted to come upon us by means of our enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh.

But what is the reason why the Lord permits and wills that we should have temptations? St. Gregory, Cassian, and others treat this point very well. They say in the first place that it is profitable for us to be tempted and afflicted, and for the Lord to at times withdraw His hand a little way from us; were it not so, the prophet would not say to God: Do not abandon me entirely (Psalm cxviii. 8). But because he knew very well that the Lord is wont at times to leave His servants and withdraw His hand a little way from them for their greater good and profit, he does not ask God never to leave him, nor ever withdraw His hand from him, but never to abandon him entirely. And in the Twenty-Sixth Psalm he says: Withdraw not in anger from thy servant. He does not ask God never to withdraw from him at any time and in any way, but not to withdraw from him in anger, or forsake him so far as to let him come to fall into sin; but as for proving him and sending him temptations and trials, he rather asks for it. Prove me, O Lord, and try me (Psalm xxv. 2). And by Isaias the same Lord says: A little, for an instant, I have forsaken thee, and in great mercies will I gather thee: in a moment of indignation I have hidden my face from thee, and in ever­lasting mercy have I had mercy on thee (Isaias liv. 7-8).

But let us see in particular the benefits and advantages that accrue to us from temptations. Cassian says that God deals with us as He dealt with the children of Israel. He would not entirely destroy the enemies of His people, but left in the Land of Promise those enemies of His peo­ple, those tribes of Canaanites, Amorrheans, Jebusites, and so forth, to teach and exercise His people, that security might not make them fall into idleness, but they should be valiant men of war—habere consuetudinem praeliandi (Judges iii. 1). So, he says, the Lord wishes that we should have enemies and be assailed by temptations, that we should have practice in fighting and not take harm from idleness or prosperity; for oftentimes the devil deceives and overthrows by a false sense of security those whom he has not been able to overcome by open fighting.

St. Gregory says that by a high and secret disposition of His providence the Lord wishes the good and the elect to be tempted and afflicted in this life; because this life is a road, or to speak better, an exile, whereby we journey and make our pilgrimage until we reach our heavenly country; and whereas some travelers, when they see on their way sundry meadows and woodlands, are apt to stop and turn off from the road, therefore the Lord has wished that this life should be full of trials and temptations, to prevent our setting our heart and love on it, or taking our land of exile for our country, and make us continually sigh for home. St. Augustine gives the same reason, and says that tempta­tions and trials go to show us the misery of this life, that we may more ardently long for that life of heavenly bliss and seek after it with greater diligence and fervor. And in another place he says it is “that we may not love the stable”—ne viator stabulum amet pro domo sua—and for­get those royal palaces for which we were created. When the nurse wishes to wean the child and teach it to eat bread, she puts aloes on her breasts; so God mingles bitterness with the things of this life to detach men from them and make them with all their heart and desire long after heaven. And St. Gregory: “The evils that beset and oppress us here make us have recourse and turn to God.”

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