A hurried woman pulled into a parking place, but could find no coin for the metre in her handbag. After all, you know women’s handbags. In desperate haste she wrote a note addressed to the anticipated traffic cop. It simply said “Forgive us our trespasses.” She returned two hours later to find a parking ticket on her windshield. It was accompanied by a note from the cop: “Lead us not into temptation.”
For cops and everyone, temptation, or more accurately “testing”, is something we should want to avoid, for it baffles, disturbs and disrupts. Just when the seas of our moral and spiritual lives seem calm, the gusts of temptation blow round us. And a storm starts. Then perhaps we fail or fall. And then the calm returns, but it is uneasy and ruffled. And we are unhappy. And confused. And guilty. And we wonder why.
Temptation is not sin
Of course right away a distinction must be made between temptation and sin. Temptation is not sin. Yielding to it is. But in many people’s minds there is no distinction, and they imagine with Oscar Wilde, that “the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
That solution, though mildly comic, is also pretty devastating, and is like getting rid of poison by drinking it.
The Christian answer, needless to say, is to resist temptation and to flee the sins which are its fruits. To many people this is kill-joy. The idea is that sin is fun and straight living is tedious. There seems no reason to resist evil. So why bother?
A schoolboy once said to me: “Sir, don’t you wish occasionally that you could have a good time?” Needless to say, I got the message and he got the laugh. His implication, of course, was that the attempt to live a Christian life must involve a bad time. To have a ball you must kick over the traces. Sin is the happy way, the good-time way.
It reminded me of an airline advertisement I saw in Los Angeles. It said “Fly to Las Vegas and really live.” Yet if you do waste your money on a ticket to Las Vegas, about the last thing you see is people who are really living. Most seem to be busy dying. At least their laughs of “life” ring exceeding lifeless.
The best reason in the world
All this brings me round to observing that the Bible is not arbitrary in urging us to resist temptation and avoid sin. It has the best reason in the world – namely that contrary to the popular heresy, sin does not make us happy. It is not the way of gladness, wholeness or fun. It is the way of remorse, disintegration and ashes. In other words things are not wrong because the Bible condemns them. The Bible condemns them because they are wrong – because they are not in our highest interests and do not promote our happiness. The laws of God are fences erected at the edge of the precipice to prevent us failing over. They are there to protect our safety, not restrict our freedom.
Indeed temptation and evil are intrusions, aberrations – things for which we are not made or suited. They are foreign bodies which disturb the smooth running of the machine as surely as sand in a watch.
If we can see this, then resisting temptation is not stupid, but sensible. It serves our highest interests. And so it makes all the sense in the world to pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What’s more this is the only way to have a Good Time.