God knows a lot of things. In fact, God knows everything. And God knew that Adam and Eve would give in to temptation, and that Jesus would not.
Adam and Eve really didn’t stand a chance in the Garden of Eden. They were kind of new there, kind of new to life. They had neither the tools nor the life experience to resist the temptation of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Jesus, on the other hand, was rock steady in the face of some pretty powerful temptations. He never wavered. In fact, Jesus already had an answer for each of the devil’s temptations.
Adam and Eve of our Hebrew Scripture reading represent one end of the spectrum for resisting temptation, and Jesus, from our Gospel lesson, represents the other end of the spectrum. And you and I are somewhere on that spectrum. There are rules, there is free will, and there are consequences.
Psychology and the Social Sciences have done countless studies on a person’s ability to ‘delay gratification’. That’s a fancy phrase for ‘resist temptation’. And what science has found is that an inability to resist temptation, or delay gratification, can lead to all kinds of troubles: credit card debt, eating disorders, chemical dependency and addiction, even incarceration.
Those who are able to delay gratification are linked with healthier life outcomes.
Many scientists believe we are born with a base-line ability or inability to resist temptation. But the cool thing is that no matter what your base-line, everybody can learn to delay gratification longer than their base-line. It may not be easy, but one can learn to resist temptation.
Now, it must be obvious by now that we are all closer to Adam and Eve on that spectrum than we are to Jesus! Everyone here has their weakness, the thing they can’t resist. Everyone here struggles with giving in to temptation.
Recent studies have revealed that we possess a finite amount of ‘will power’. If we spend most of our day resisting temptation, we will have a very difficult time resisting in the evening.
And there are rules. There is free will, and there are consequences.
What made Jesus so steady in the face of temptation? Why was he able to stare down the devil offering food after 40 days of not eating? Jesus had the courage of his convictions, his faith, to help him through. Jesus had a goal, and what the devil was offering him wasn’t it. Jesus didn’t need what the devil was trying to give him, so he could resist.
Adam and Eve on the other hand, had little resources to resist the serpent. No faith base, no goal, no confidence, no courage…so they gave in to temptation because they could. There was a rule. Don’t eat the fruit of that tree. They had free will, so they broke the rule. And there were consequences.
Human nature is not inherently evil, it is inherently open to temptation. Humanity is not sinful by nature, but it is inherently open to sinning. There is a difference.
God knew Adam and Eve would not be able to resist temptation. But they needed to make their mistakes and experience the consequences. That is true for each and every one of us, too. We are tempted, sometimes we resist, sometimes we give in. And there are consequences either way. But judgment isn’t one of the consequences. We are not bad people, or evil people, or sinful people because we have difficulty resisting temptation.
But we are sinners. And we are forgiven. Just as Adam and Eve were forgiven, even in the midst of their consequences.
So we’re on the spectrum of resisting temptation between Adam and Eve and Jesus. Between being unable to resist temptation at all, and being able to resist all temptation. And science is telling us that wherever we are on the spectrum, we can learn to lengthen the time we resist temptation.
So how do we do that? If I had an easy answer, I would write a book and make millions of dollars! One way to start is to be prepared. Adam and Eve weren’t prepared.
If we know what some of our temptations are, and we know that they will be in front of us at some point, we can prepare our heads and our hearts for what that might feel like. And if we can plan for an alternative instead of grabbing the temptation, we also might be better prepared.
It doesn’t matter what our weakness is, they are all the same. Some may have more dire consequences: eating all the Girl Scout cookies is not the same as taking all the heroin.
God knows we will be tempted, and God knows we will give in to temptation during our lifetimes. That does not make us bad, or evil, sinful. But there are some basic rules to the universe, to the world, and to our lives. And we all have free will to follow those rules or break them. And the universe and world and life are really good at applying the consequences to our actions!
So it makes sense for us to familiarize ourselves with the rules. To try and understand the power of the gift of free will. And to anticipate the consequences of our actions when it comes to resisting or giving in to temptation.
And let’s not kid ourselves: we all give in to temptation at some point. Nobody is as solid as Jesus was in the wilderness.
But we can be so much more prepared for the challenges ahead, the temptations ahead, if we were to take some time to reflect on the things that tempt us, the reasons why we find them tempting, and the consequences of giving in to them.
I would invite each of you to take some time this week to do just that: reflect on the role of temptation in your lives, how well you resist temptation, and the consequences of resisting, or giving in. The details don’t really matter. And we are not bad people, or evil people if we do give in. But we know some of the consequences that will come from giving in to temptation.
Jesus resisted temptation so that he could fulfill his role as our Savior. We are forgiven our sins, our failures, our giving in to temptation, because he did not give in.
And the closer we can move to Jesus on the spectrum of resisting temptation, the more solid we will be when those tempting moments come up. And they will come up!
May this week’s Lenten Journey include reflecting our own temptations. Amen.
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