In 2001’s Best Picture “A Beautiful Mind”, the lead character, a brilliant mathematician, learns he has paranoid schizophrenia and some of the people he has been associating with over the years aren’t actually real. Picking up the pieces of his shattered reality, he presses on through the decades, learning to deal with these ghosts that never leave him, while learning to work at the things that really matter.
This kind of illustrates our struggle with temptation, though not how I prefer. I want my temptations to leave forever. I want to find a magic key or that one Bible passage that solves the problem for good. I’ve read the Scriptures, claimed their promises, prayed and praised my heart out, rested in His presence, and yet, no matter how many times I “change my address”, that beast always seems to track me down; and I always find myself asking “What is the deal?”
Perhaps that is the deal.
Paul is writing to his congregation in Corinth concerning some matters in which they have compromised their witness. He uses ancient Israel as an illustration of what happens when they give the challenges around them the opportunity to compromise their faith. Instructing them to make sure their moral standing is stable, he gives them a few thoughts on temptation and how to deal with it.
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
We’ve been assaulted by just one kind of temptation—the common kind; familiar, predictable, the usual. Not special, unique, or exceptional. I think one of the worst things I do with temptation is elevate that which has overtaken me to something overpowering, a mysterious and irresistible anomaly. A simple thing in the light becomes a shadowy monster dancing on the dark wall. It’s in this deceiving and dancing darkness Paul calls God faithful, who will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able. What we are able? I don’t want to be tempted at all! I want to resist it, have it go away, and relax, all within five minutes time!
That’s really not going to happen; without temptation and challenges, we won’t grow to know our God, and that’s where I think we begin to understand what’s really going on. Temptation is not the mysterious anomaly; God’s faithfulness is. It’s the one factor that will change everything. In this world, the challenges and hardships we face are always going to be there because they are a part of the fallen fabric; instead of removing temptation, God inserts Himself and lets His character influence the chaos. The response He’s looking for is one that reveals His character in us. By responding in a way that reflects the faithfulness His has patiently shown us, we pursue a direction that rides out the temptation, and it’s a long road. Paul’s idea that God has provided a way of escape cannot be disconnected from the idea that it’s a way that must be endured; the way of escape is not the same thing as the actual escape. It’s a distance that must be covered as Christ’s character produces itself within us.
It always gives me pause when I read that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted; the Spirit wasn’t doing the tempting, but it certainly engaged it. I’m not saying put yourself into a tempting situation; I’m saying when it comes, temptation will be a chance to know Christ and allow His character to shape ours. Temptation is a reality to be taken seriously; its commonness makes it predictable and God’s faithfulness makes it beatable. The distance we go with Christ is the way of escape and endurance; we walk it off by walking with Him.