Lenten Reflections: The Temptations of Christ*

Based on reflections on the gospel reading of Saint Luke 4:1-13:

I love this story, not least because it messes with my ideas about God. Jesus was “led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Usually we focus on the temptations Jesus faced – for food, for power, for glory – and how he resisted. But what lands for me is that the devil is doing the work of the Holy Spirit here. The temptation is not an unfortunate surprise or a problem, but is apparently part of the plan.

This morning I was reminded in a sermon that “the plan” for Jesus, as for all of us, includes testing. It’s not enough for us to go out knowing that we are God’s beloved – as important as that is. We need to know our limits and our susceptibilities as well. We need to know how to resist them. Then we can serve the world and God. So “the devil” here is essential to preparing us for adult life and service.

Does that mean that every temptation is really a test from God? Many people go there. When loved ones die or disaster falls, they ask why God is doing this to them. Whether they’re asking what they did to deserve this, or asking what God’s purpose is, they are often imputing too much intention to God. God does not micromanage every detail or endorse every moment in our lives. There is human sin and human love, there is natural disaster, there is chance.
But at other times and in other ways it’s really helpful to ask where God is in a situation. The answer, we assume so often, must be in a “good” way – a way that we like. God is in the comfort, the “in spite of” or “with us through” hard times.

But what if God is sometimes in the hard time itself? What if God is not punishing us or exactly planning results for us, but is in the opportunity to grow our faith? What if God is redeeming the situation even through the “negative” parts?
Maybe the trouble is in being so certain what is good and what is bad, what is “the devil” and what is God. God is bigger than my ideas of good and bad, which usually follow closely with my comfort or discomfort. The Lenten journey reminds me that good and bad are bigger than my comfort or lack thereof, bigger than my understanding. Jesus being tempted; Jesus being crucified; is this the work of the devil, or the Holy Spirit – or the dance between them?
Is there a place in your life that you are sure is just bad, just “the devil’s work”? The inner work I’m doing this Lent hurts like the devil, but I know it’s of God. God has promised that if I walk through this valley I will see more life, more love. God has promised you too.

Whatever your temptations this season, this year, this life, God is there for you. You may end the season still living with injustice and oppression, still hungry, still sick or lonely, as many people will. God doesn’t will that. God wills your peace and serenity and resilience through it, and God wills an end to it. Stand strong – or lie, or sit, as you are able. But know that the Holy Spirit is with you, even in the scariest times. And blessings on you, this day and always.

*Reposted from “The Companions of Mary the Apostle”

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