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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Satan's Apple

Have you ever been tempted? Not by something little, like whether you should eat that chocolate brownie, but a big thing that takes your breath away. A million dollars. Revenge. The leadership of your organization. The love of your life.

What do you do if you could take what you desire, but you know you shouldn't?

One of my favorite quotes about temptation is from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity: "No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means -- the only complete realist."

Fighting a temptation is hard work, and it can be a lasting fight: for days, months, occasionally a lifetime. So what keeps someone from succumbing to a temptation?

Let me suggest one remedy: Love. Of course there are different types of meaning for that word that we use: love of self, affection, friendship, eros (romantic/sexual), agape. I'm talking about the agape selfless love. As described by Lewis, "Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained." (Answers to Questions on Christianity). It is the love that recognizes how your actions affect others for good or for ill, the decision to be willing to sacrifice for the other. The highest form of Love. While showing agape may seem unreasonable, don't we all admire this, for example in the man who goes back into a burning building to rescue a child? Let me suggest that aiming for this standard will inevitably lessen the temptation's bad effects, if not the pain of the battle.

If you haven't been greatly tempted yet, don't be like the man Shakespeare describes when he says, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." (Romeo and Juliet, act 2 scene 2). The temptation may come to you in a way or form that you might not expect. Decide, now, that you are, that you must be, strong enough to overcome.

Since I'm sticking on CS Lewis today, let me tell one more story of his, from The Magician's Nephew (One of the Chronicles of Narnia). In the book, Aslan the great lion tells a little boy that he must go on a journey to fetch a magical apple that will protect Narnia. The little boy retrieves it, but then is tempted by a witch that the apple could instead restore his dying mother. He struggles but withstands the suggestion, his heart's desire, and instead brings the apple back to Aslan.

Aslan says, "Well done. For this fruit you have hungered and thirsted and wept. No hand but yours shall sow the seed of the Tree that is to be the protection of Narnia." The little boy plants the apple, and a tree quickly grows. Aslan then invites the little boy to take an apple back to his mother. "The stolen apple," Aslan explains, "would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness...[but] it is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy."

A fairy tale? Maybe. But I believe Lewis tapped into a rich truth of the universe, that good and bad do exist, and that our actions do matter. Stand strong. You don't know what unseen forces may be set into play.


Philangelus said...

The problem I've seen is that Satan only tempts us with good things, not with bad things. He only presents us things that we know we ought to have. Look at what he offered Jesus: you can have bread; you can have angels ministering to you; you can have authority over all the world.

All of those things Jesus would have! Eventually. Not right then, but eventually. He would become the Bread of Life. He will rule the world as King of Kings. He will have angels ministering to him....but not right then. Right then, it wasn't appropriate. And so a good thing would have been a bad thing.

So when we're tempted, we see a good thing that's very very good but not right for us now, or it's not the way God wanted us to have it. That's what makes it so hard to resist. Not because we want a bad thing, but because we recognize a good thing, and often it's a good thing God wants us to have. But not in that way, or not right then.

Kat Heckenbach said...

CS LEWIS! Brilliant man. Great post, Amy. And a good reminder about love. Love isn't mushy feelings, it's action, putting someone's best interest first, even if it's hard to do.

Amy Deardon said...

Philangelus, brilliant point! You're absolutely right. Thank you :-) Kat, I guess you can tell I love CS Lewis. His thoughts are profound.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

I re-read this a couple of times. Great post, Amy. Your blog has the most diverse material of any other one I read.

I think the Scripture which most strongly supports your point is Jesus saying of the commandments to Love God with all you are and to love neighbor: "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:40)

As far as the devil tempting with only good things—perverting the good is one of his ploys, but I wouldn't call it the only one. Some things don't belong to us at all, at any time, in any measure, such as bitterness, hatred, revenge.

Philangelus said...

Maybe so, but those three aren't in the all-bad category.

Revenge is perverted justice, actually. It's the idea that justice is necessary, and *I* (not God) will be the one to deliver it.

Bitterness arises from seeing good things and believing we deserve them.

Hatred is most often the side-effect of indulging in other sins. We're not directly tempted to hatred. We're tempted to other things and hatred comes as a result of hardening our hearts in order to obtain those things.