“Lead us not into temptation.” If we reflected upon the most challenging petition of the Lord's Prayer last week, we are now discussing perhaps the most confusing petition of the Our Father. Why would we have to worry about God our Father leading us into temptation? Doesn't He want to keep us away from evil, sin, and death? The Letter of St. James tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one (1:13).”
It be good to take note of a few initial thoughts. First of all, temptation itself is not a sin. To be tempted is not the same as consenting to a sin. Everyone faces temptation everyday, but only when we fall to temptation—whatever that may be—is when we sin. Secondly, temptation is the ordinary and typical way that the opponent, the devil, operates in our lives as he seeks to enslave, degrade, and destroy us. We may often think the devil's work is usually in demonic possession, which are very real, and exorcisms, which are necessary, but we can just as easily turn over our will and reject God's will through temptation. We should worry far more about rejecting God's will through sinning than demonic possession (while at the same time fleeing far away from the New Age movement and the occult, including ouija boards—stay far away from these things).
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, faced temptation from the devil. Their first mistake was to engage in conversation with the serpent when he asked them questions. If they had instead walked away or not answered the serpent's questions, they may not have fallen for his trickery and deception. There is an important lesson for us here: don't engage in conversation with temptation. Sometimes we may want to know how far we can go with something before it becomes a sin, or we engage in mental gymnastics to determine how something really isn't a sin. These conversations with temptation only lead in one direction: falling to the deceptions of the devil.
Lastly about temptation itself, it should be remembered that Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted after 40 days of fasting in the desert. Jesus didn't engage in conversation with the devil; Jesus rebuked the devil with the words of Scripture. More could be stated in depth about the temptations Jesus faced, but suffice it to say that the temptations He faced were of the same nature as the temptations faced by Adam and Eve. Jesus' obedience to the Father and rejection of the devil's temptations, in a sense, undoes the disobedience of Adam and Eve and their acceptance of temptation. Jesus is re-creating the world through His actions. It's good for us to remember that God the Son has enter into humanity so completely that He even experienced temptation, and therefore, when we face temptation, we turn to Him, asking for strength to resist the temptation to choose our own will over the will of God.
With all of this said, let's look at the actual petition, “Lead us not into temptation.” God does not tempt us, but He does allow us to be put through trials, as He allowed to Job. Our Father allows us to go through trials in our to purify our desires into a profound unity with God's will. God also knows us better than we know ourselves, and therefore, God allows us to be tried in order for us to better know ourselves and our hearts. Trials reveal to us who we are and what we desire: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mt 6:21).”
Pope Benedict states this well, “Now we are in a position to interpret the sixth petition of the Our Father in a more practical way. When we pray it, we are saying to God: 'I know that I need trials so that my nature may be purified. When you decide to send me these trials, when you give evil some room to maneuver, as you did with Job, then please remember that my strength goes only so far. Don't overestimate my capacity. Don't set too wide the boundaries within which I may be tempted, and be close to me with your protecting hand when it becomes too much for me.'”
We are saints under construction, growing in holiness by rejecting temptation and choosing God's plan. Have a great week!