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?