Artistic representations of Satan usually depict a grotesque, horrible figure with horns and a tail, but in real temptation the tempter never appears like that at all. The whole thing about temptation is that it is highly desirable. It’s entirely plausible. If it signalled its presence with horror and shame,
it would lose its appeal.
Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, as described by Matthew and Luke, were noble and popularly expected ways for the Messiah to act: supply manna to feed the hungry as God did in the time of Moses; through the use of miracle, give demonstration of great power; establish an empire to out-rival the Roman Empire but uncontaminated by corruption and the abuse of power.
Temptation does not come to us with a frightening face either, but rather with the slick charm that draws us away from Christ’s simple call of, “Follow me.” It poses the possibility that I would be better off by just relaxing, for this once, an insistence on integrity – look how much good I could do with that money! The break-up of a marriage does not start with that intention. It starts with, “I want to be loved,” “I want to express myself,” “I want to be free,”
“I want to be in control.”
Temptations to sin do come. There is no escaping that. And they come in the most unexpected and innocent-looking ways. There are winds that blow us off course if we let them: it is for us to be aware of this and to resolutely counteract them by allowing the winds of God’s Spirit to prevail, seeking forgiveness when we fail.
• What are some ways in which the words tempt and temptation are used in everyday speech?
• Why do you think artists represented the Tempter as ugly and menacing?
• Give examples of temptations that appear attractive and desirable.
• How can we allow the winds of God’s Spirit to guide us in the face of those forces that try to blow us off course?