Temptation is a Promised Lie

Woman holding a green apple and a doughnut. Courtesy of Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com.

I haven’t posted a personal thought in a long time, so I thought I would take the option to write about something I studied in a religion course I’m taking this semester. Several years ago I would write a religious post weekly, but I’ve felt less comfortable doing that for a while.

This week, one of the things I studied was the temptation of Christ after His forty-day fast. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll discuss this event using the account recorded in the gospel of Matthew. We read that being “an hungered,” as the King James Version of the Bible suggests, the tempter, Satan, approached the weakened Lord with three beguiling temptations: To turn the dry stones into nourishing bread, to demonstrate His power for all to see at the temple in Jerusalem and to worship Satan in exchange for earthly princedom.

Let’s focus on the latter, most bold temptation. The text in Matthew reads thus:

“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wil fall down and worship me.

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Temptations are promises—perform an immoral act and receive a valuable earthly reward. In this case, the temptation was a lie, for Satan clearly had no intention of giving the Lord all the kingdoms of the world, and clearly had no power to do so anyway. Thus it is with all the little temptations that we find niggling in the back of our minds.

“You’re worthless,” a shriveled, dark thought might say from the deepest recess of your brain. “You should just give up. You’re a failure. You don’t belong, you’re an imposter. Nothing you do will ever matter.” These thoughts often arise in response to something happening to us, usually something we perceive as negative. Or perhaps a more alluring temptation is presented to us. “Fudge a little on your resume so you can land this job. Lie on these forms so you won’t have to pay as many taxes. Display your contempt to the cashier so you can feel powerful.” These temptations are, well, tempting, but the rewards they promise are hollow and dead. Getting a job because you lied on your resume will turn your life into a living hell since you won’t be qualified or knowledgeable enough to perform the work asked of you. Acting contemptuously towards a cashier won’t make you powerful, just contemptuous. Lying on your tax forms will likely bring the scrutiny of the IRS down on you, causing more trouble than your honesty would have. And giving up during a bad day won’t bring you any of the potential joy that lives in your future.

These negative thoughts are lies. I believe that it is possible for the tempter, Satan, to put these ideas in our minds, but I also think our brains are impressively capable of deceiving us all by themselves. The next time your brain promises a reward in exchange for an immoral act, ask yourself: Will I really be rewarded, or am I just being promised a tall tale?

What America Needs the Most

      After my mission, I didn’t take much time to stay abreast of the latest news. I would hear bits and pieces of the latest depredations of foreign countries, a lot about Donald Trump, and some mutterings about “those darn Democrats” from my parents. Without taking time to actually formulate a coherent position on any of these topics, I decided that the nations of the world should try harder to get along, that I don’t like Donald Trump, and that partisan politics isn’t for me.

      But over the past two weeks—since the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, really—I’ve noticed a common thread in the biggest headlines in the newspapers at work and in the news apps I recently added to my phone. The United States is in serious trouble: Our Union is disintegrating, whether you like it or not. And after giving it some thought, I’d like to offer what I think is the one thing our great nation, and indeed all of us as individuals, need the most.

      Friendship. That’s right, everyone! The United States needs more friendships, within and without.

      I’m not talking about merely being more civil with each other, or ending the destructive tribalism that currently wracks the land. Yes, it’d be great to solve those problems, but I fear we’re not being courageous and bold enough to halt the disaster that is looming over the world when we focus on these issues. We need to start going out of our way to make new friends, to nurture those relationships, and to serve them with true care and concern.

      How many friends do you have? No, I don’t mean on Facebook, I mean actual friends, the kind of people that you share honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, and loyalty with. The kind of relationships where you feel comfortable bearing your soul, and listening to them bear their souls in return.

      What’s that you say? You don’t even have a relationship like that with your spouse?! Dear reader, I beg of you, make whatever changes are necessary in your life to start developing that kind of relationship with every person you meet. Don’t concern yourself if someone isn’t interested in being true friends with you, but open yourself to being true friends in the case that they are interested. And do whatever you can to pursue that friendship in every sector of your life—at home, at work, and everywhere between.

      I believe that only by turning our country into a nation of friends can we conquer the overwhelming challenges of our day. While we squabble together and focus on fighting the other, we lose the opportunity to become, individually, emblematic of the American Ideal: E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One. We need to be unified, yes, but we can do even better. We can care for each other, love each other, desire the best for one another, and be friends with each other.

      My challenge to you is to start by strengthening your relationships with your close family, then your extended family. Build strong bonds with your spouse, your children, and your parents. Then start to reach out, and seek opportunities to express care for your coworkers and others you interact with regularly. You needn’t be intrusive, but you can show them that you’ll be there when they need a shoulder to cry on.

      Without friendship among Americans, the United States is doomed.