Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

What Is Temptation

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What is Temptation? A seminary teacher of mine once defined temptation quite plainly and succinctly: “Temptation is the work of the devil to drag you to Hell!” Indeed, that is quite plain. Of course he went on to give us more academic definitions, but he didn’t want us to miss the fact that when battling temptation we are in a war, a war with an enemy who wants to destroy us. He wants this because he is envious of our excellence from God.

In a more academic sense, temptation is an attraction, either from outside oneself or from within, to acting contrary to right reason and the commandments of God. During His life on earth, Jesus Himself was tempted, put to the test, in order to manifest both the opposition between Himself and the devil and the triumph of His saving work over Satan (cf Catechism # 538).

In the Bible, the words used for temptation are nasah (Hebrew) and peirazō (Greek). Both words carry a wide range of meaning that can be translated as either “temptation” or “testing.” In the first sense, the word points to an enticement to do evil. But in the second sense, the connotation is of something that proves our character and shows the depth or integrity of our commitment to God.

The English word “temptation” comes from the Latin temptare, which means more literally “to feel, or try out.” Thus the Latin root emphasizes the notion that temptation is not merely a bad thing, but also serves both as a kind of test of the depth and strength of our faith, and as an opportunity to hone our skills and deepen and purify our faith by God’s grace.

Why does God permit temptation? In one sense temptation is the “necessary” result of freedom. As free persons who are invited to love God and to say yes to his will, we must be permitted to say no. There must be real alternatives to what God offers. If God could force our yes, then we would not be free and our yes would have no real meaning. Further, if God were not to permit any alternatives, or if He did not allow us to know of these alternatives, again our yes would lose most of its meaning. So on one level, temptation is the result of freedom and our call to love.

But why doesn’t God limit temptation so that we have more of a chance? In fact God does limit temptation to some extent. He also provides other holy sources of influence for us. He limits temptation by the simple fact that not everything is possible for us. We experience physical limits, intellectual limits, economic limits, and so forth. Neither can we have every choice available to us at all times; choosing one thing often excludes others.

Further, God send us good influences. His voice echoes in our conscience. He has given us intellect and reason so that we are able to decipher the Natural Law. He has given us an attraction to goodness, beauty, and truth. He offers us the grace of faith and every other grace necessary to endure. He has given us direct revelation in his Scripture so that we can access by faith. He has sent prophets and even His own Son. And His Son continues His Ministry of teaching salvation and reconciliation through His Body, the Church. So God does limit temptation and He gives us other good influences to balance what temptations remain.

Scripture says, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:13). (cont. tomorrow).

Monsignor Charles Pope

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