Passing or Failing Spiritual Tests   Leave a comment

Above:  Temptations of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who givest us our quiet seasons of thought and prayer:

help us now and at all times to find in thee our true peace.

Save us in the hour of trial, deliver us from evil thoughts and desires,

and from the tyranny of outward things.

May we learn of Christ to be strong and brave in the struggle with temptation,

and to over come even as he overcame.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120-121

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Genesis 22:1-8

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 4:1-11

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One’s sole basis of identity should be God, according to Henri J. M. Nouwen, writing in The Way of the Heart (1981).  That standard proves daunting for me, for my ego rests on several factors, including my intellect.

In Matthew 4 we read of the temptations of Jesus.  Analyses of the temptations, with slight variations, follow the same pattern.  Nouwen’s argument is that the temptations were, in order, were “the three great compulsions of the world”:  to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  The case according to M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, follows:

  1. To fulfill messianic expectations and gain political power by feeding the masses,
  2. To demonstrate dramatically that he is the Son of God, and
  3. To serve Satan, to rule as the Roman Emperor did, and to accept and fit in with the status quo.

The case according to Douglas R. A. Hare (1993) is that the temptations were, in order, to distrust God, to dishonor God, and to commit idolatry.

I would be remiss if I chose not to quote the play, Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), set in the U.S. South.  In that paraphrase, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into grits.  Jesus replies,

Man doesn’t live by grits alone, but on every word that drips from the lips of God.

–35

I experience no temptation to justify the actions of Abraham in Genesis 22.  My analysis differs from what one may have read and heard elsewhere:  God tested Abraham, and Abraham failed, for he should have argued from the beginning.

Abraham cared more about strangers, on whose behalf he haggled with God in Genesis 18, than he about his sons.  He exiled Ishmael in Genesis 21 and was prepared to kill Isaac in Genesis 22.  Arguing faithfully with God has long been part of Judaism and, by extension, Christianity.  Abraham, at the root of Judaism, had argued with God.  Why was he submissive at this crucial moment?  And how much did he damage his domestic relationships?

I have probably read every traditional rationalization of Genesis 22:1-19.  Not one has satisfied me.

One could write about more than one theme present in 2 Corinthians 6, but verse 3 stands out in my mind.  Erecting spiritual obstacles is a frequent human activity.  One might even mistake doing so for being properly devout.  Who is an outsider?  Who is an insider?  Our answers to those may be predictable, but God’s answers may shock us.  Also, we must trust in God if we are to grow spiritually, but do we really understand divine intentions at crucial moments?

One may wish for a clear–even spectacular–sign or signs.  Yet would we understand those, or would we find the signs distracting and miss the message?  Yes, we would, correct?

I ask God for no spectacular signs.  No, I need simply to pay attention to my surroundings.  As I type these words, the seasons are finally turning–from an abbreviated autumn to an early winter.  The splendor of autumn leaves, cold temperatures, and other wonders of nature satisfy many of my spiritual needs.

Trusting in God remains difficult for me much of the time, but doing so is at least less difficult than it used to be.  Grace accounts for that change.  I trust more progress will ensue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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