The third in our Lenten devotional series.
Temptation. It sneaks up on you. It whispers, is this really such a bad idea? Iâ€™ll just tell them I was late because I got an important phone callâ€¦Iâ€™ll just tell them I read the whole thingâ€¦Iâ€™ll just tell them Iâ€™ve had some experience with thatâ€¦
And if, when we consider telling a half-truth, little white lies, something other than the whole truth, we hear a voice saying to us something like: is a small lie really such a big deal? If we heed that voice rather than something like a line out of Psalm 51: you desire truth in the innermost being, it will not help us in the moment of temptation. It will be too late. If we are ready to convince ourselves that our fudging is not such a big deal, then we are ripe to be manipulated by the tempter.Â And, we are on our way to becoming, just like that, people who are no longer trust-worthy.Â People who have become comfortable messing around with the truth.Â This is how temptation works.
But there is more. Temptation is the ancient activity of Satan, and it began in that first garden. It began with Satan’s original lie: has God said?Â Yes, this is a question, but embedded in this question is a suggestion that God may be, is, holding out on us, that God is not really good, not really who he says he is, not really for us. This is doubt. Satan comes with the invitation, the temptation to doubt. To doubt the goodness, the steadfastness, the glorious love, and faithfulness of God. His goal is to subtly unravel our trust in this goodness and to suggest, ever so gently, that God may not really be all that good after all.
If we begin to believe that God is not the loving and trustworthy one, if chesed, his lovingkindness is not real and canâ€™t be counted on, we have entered the tragic darkness of the realm where Satan dwells, the land of lies.
But how does this relate to my little white lie about not reading the whole book that I said I did? Or that I had experience with going camping when I really had never been? What is the big deal here? I think the big deal here has to do with believing we need to alter the truth to be OK. We think that doing it Godâ€™s way, always being truthful, will not land us in a good place. Instead, it will make people think less of us.
What really diminishes us is becoming liars. Little lies, yes, but nonetheless, comfortable speaking something other than the truth. It is a slow and subtle process, but it is how, for example, a company goes from fudging a little bit on the truth about results in the testing of a new drug, to a full-blown cover-up with lives lost and other lives very much at stake and terribly broken trust with the public. It starts out slowly, but you get there with one small fudge at a time.
Godâ€™s love is bent in the direction of saving us from this, of asking us to care about truth in the innermost places of our selves. God asks of us to choose his ways, the ways of light and truth. It is better to be a little bit exposed as someone who has never camped, who did not read the whole book and therefore feels a little bit embarrassed instead of someone who has lost the ability to be truthful about smaller and eventually bigger matters.
The goodness of God, about which Satan lies to us, is the goodness that asks us to trust him to guide us into a life that is cleaner and purer than what we might choose for ourselves when we are trying to look good and impress. It is a life that is ultimately better than life where shame has so much space to grow and to make us miserable. The goodness of God is trustworthy, something to pursue, something that enfolds us in his love.
Jesus knew this. In his own battles with temptation, he consistently chose the will of the Father. This meant choosing a path that was not comfortable or convenient, in which he did not look impressive to others, but which banked on the goodness of the Father. Jesus knew the Fatherâ€™s love. He knew it to be unshakeable and eternal. He knew that the Fatherâ€™s will flowed from a place of love. And this is what he chose, every time. May we do the same.