The Nature of Temptation and Evil
It never ceases to amaze me what God will use to reveal certain truths to me and to drive a much needed point home and always at the right time when I most need it. In this case most recently, God used a secular movie that just came out this year called “Black Death” to show me the true nature of temptation and evil after weeks, even months of praying for guidance and wisdom on some personal issues in my life (spiritual and personal). While the movie isn’t the best ever, the story is a wise and clever one if you pay attention and truly ponder its essential point. The point is, evil doesn’t tempt us with all that glitters. Not initially at any rate. It doesn’t tempt us with the darkest of actions (like murder) either. At least not initially. No. Evil, Satan himself, tempts us with wisps of fog, gray ghosts and murky atmosphere. The cloud of deception Satan most uses to deceive us, tempt us, and lure us away is the lie that we have been personally wronged and in being personally wronged are in the “right” to think, feel, believe, and DO what it is we deem our DUTY, RIGHT, or OBLIGATION. This is what I've been living under for YEARS: righteous anger and indignation. A lack of forgiveness. Pride (which is always so easily "injured").
Case and point that this is how Satan works best, is the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Satan didn’t tempt Eve by pointing out how attractive or delicious the forbidden fruit was. No. He tempted her by telling her God was lying to her. God was withholding information she was entitled to have. God was holding her back from her true potential for all wisdom and greatness. He appealed to her pride (ego) and revealed how it was being "injured." Then and only then, when she gave ear to this and believed it did the fruit become attractive and she ate it.
Of course this is why Jesus told his disciples on the Mount that the very lingering feelings of anger, lust, envy, and judgment were sins. It is our thinking and attitude God measures, not just action. This is because it is our very attitude that defines our behavior toward ourselves, toward others, and toward God Himself.
God is a God of love, peace, and reconciliation. His believers are called to imitate Him and that is impossible to do if we still harbor those thoughts and beliefs that are angry, lustful, unforgiving, and judgmental. This is why Jesus Himself, and Paul, and Peter, and James repeatedly told believers to love (which is a choice and an action, not a feeling) everyone. Forgive everyone. Count all fellow believers as being better, to pursue peace in our lives at all costs (the exception being peace that comes at a cost of denying Christ or indulging in sin). This is even why Jesus and His direct Apostles told us to avoid those who continually stir up strife and dissension (after initially approaching them lovingly to stop) or to avoid hostile unbelievers (by not casting our pearls before swine). After all, if we are continually assaulted (verbally or otherwise) and persecuted by the same people or groups over and over we will eventually find it difficult if not impossible to remain loving and in a spirit of peace around them. Jesus Himself left His hometown when they tried to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff. He didn’t curse them, but He didn’t hang around either!
The reason God calls on us to have the same spirit of love, grace, mercy, reconciliation and peace is so that we don’t go down that murky, foggy, wispy gray path of “righteous” “justified” behavior that leads to outright sin like,indulging in sex out of marriage, theft, violence, or revenge of any sort. When we give into those feelings of being “wronged” or “betrayed” or “held down/back” or “ignored” we open ourselves to further temptation to hurt others. It may be in “little” ways. Like ignoring them or distancing ourselves from them. (It’s really hard to be a witness to someone when we never talk to them! So much for THAT being a “little” matter!) To big ways like cheating on an unloving spouse and divorcing them. Or lying about someone so they lose their job, their social standing, or even their lives!
I believe more Christians have fallen either due to feelings of “righteous” anger or as a result of someone having “righteous anger” toward them than for any other reason one can name. The idea that we are ENTITLED to be treated a certain way or to treat others in a certain way is "our way" and not God’s. That it’s our GOD GIVEN RIGHT to this or that which then leads us to withhold love, grace, forgiveness, peace and finally what God wants most of all according to John 3: reconciliation.
My first hand experience was with a Church I once attended years ago. While going through a divorce they believing it was wrong (it was), they decided to ostracize Neal and me without so much as approaching us first in a loving way in order to save our marriage and ultimately us. That was wrong. Yet they felt they had the right to do this most likely to save the reputation of their Church and their standing in the “community.” After all, we were a blemish I’m sure! And our response? Feeling “wronged” (and we were), we just left in a huff instead of going to them and saying, “Hey, why are you doing this? Let’s make this right again.” Giving them the opportunity to do the right thing and help us. This led to years of anger and resentment on my part toward the Church as a whole and ultimately cost me my entire belief in Christ for a long time. Anger ALWAYS grows like a cancer. ALWAYS. And it spread in me to the point not only was I angry at that ONE LOCAL Church, I was angry at the ENTIRE Body of Christ and finally God Himself!
Satan really did a job on both that Church and on Neal and me. The Church was doing the “right” thing in getting a sinful divorcing couple out of their Church. They succeeded! And I did the “right” thing by not staying around a place determined to treat me like dirt ("wronging me"). Such is the cleverness of Satan.
However, God is much more shrewd than Satan, and He loves me. And just as I lost my faith in degrees eventually, He put me in a position to regain it by degrees as well. God is so loving, forgiving, and determined for reconciliation for each of us that He will make sure we have the chance and the choice to get off the path winding through the gray wisps of fog and murk and walk in the light. Once we acknowledge He is the true and only Lord of our lives and that our ways are not His, we can finally learn to do as He COMMANDS us to do. Don’t let the sun go down on our anger. Forgive. Don’t judge (assess and condemn another PERSON instead of the ACTIONS). Reach out (evangelize, witness, minister, provide helpful service) to others. Pursue peace. Work with God’s Holy Spirit to facilitate reconciliation between God and ALL of mankind by introducing them to His Son Jesus. Becoming a servant. Washing feet. Dying to self and dying for others (not giving into feelings of pride or other ego driven motives) by living for Christ and ONLY Christ. Once we truly determine to live for God alone we no longer have the desire or inclination to waste precious time and opportunities that can be taken to serve our Lord and Savior!
Feelings, even those initial reactionary thoughts are not in our control. But the choice to continue to harbor them, dwell on them, and act on them are. When we are told to renew our minds, take up the Cross, live as a living sacrifice, these are not about initial FEELINGS or THOUGHTS. It’s referring to the choices we make as a result of (or even in spite of) them. If we are angered by someone, we can CHOOSE to pray for them to be forgiven and blessed (as Moses and Jesus both did more than once) instead and turn them over to God. Or we can continue to judge them, ignore them, treat them like dirt, or outright HATE them. It’s all choice. Do we reject our “thoughts” or “feelings” that are ungodly? Or do we CHOOSE to revel in them. Harbor or hold on to them? Even ENJOY them? This was the choice Adam and Eve had. They could either reject the serpent that was Satan by saying, “No! God loves us and wouldn’t lie to us or hold us back from our potential. Be gone!” They didn’t do that though. They chose to believe the lie. To dwell on the lie. To hold onto those initial feelings of entitlement until it gave way to action. Sadly, people are still doing that every day. I do. There is always one moment of everyday when we “feel” wronged or hurt or even angry by something or someone. The question is, what do we DO about it? Reject those feelings and turn the situation over to God? Or hold onto them and allow them to form our entire attitude and eventually our behavior?
All I can say is, thank God for His Holy Spirit who continually works miracles in our lives by transforming us into the new creation God wants us to be and says in His word we already are! Everyday so long as we have faith and as a result are open and willing to be made into Christ’s image, we will continue to shed those attitudes day by day, slowly but surely! God is the victor and as His heirs through Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on our behalf, we have victory too! We must believe in this and in sincerely believing it, ACT on it!
Yes, Satan is determined to lead us all down the murky, foggy, ghostly gray path of sin and destruction. Every minute he plots this. He continually and constantly tries to manipulate us and those around us to drag us down that path. Where the path of self-righteousness (of which there is no such thing), the path of entitlement, the path of pride all lie in wait. However, we can rejoice that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, counsel us, comfort us, even discipline us if need be. And the more we rely on Him, trust Him, turn to Him, the harder it is for Satan to lead us astray. All I can say is, thank God for that (for His love and grace and His Holy Spirit) and thank God that we believers are forgiven, redeemed, renewed, transformed, free, and SAVED.
Black Death (2011 version) is a good movie to watch if you're curious about a movie that shows just how clever and destruction the nature of evil really is. Check it out if you get a chance. Not for children under 13 years of age though. Peace.