Don't Tempt Me - Reflections 3-2-17

 Texts for Sunday March 5, 2017
 1st Sunday in Lent

 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-17
 Psalm 32
 Romans 5:12-19
 Matthew 4:1-11

In 7th grade, I read The Screwtape Letters: How a Senior Devil Instructs a Junior Devil in the Art of Temptation by C.S. Lewis. I loved it! I’m sure subtle points of theology sailed over my head. But I did think it was great that Screwtape used human nature to trip up humans…preferably those generic, fictional humans, of course, and not me. Although, even in 7th grade, I recognized that I could respond to those temptations pretty easily. And forewarned didn’t mean I was immune; it actually just provided more ways to turn away from God: my prideful certainty that I’m forewarned and immune.

This first Sunday in Lent invites us to think about things like temptation and turning away from God. Eve and Adam, in the Genesis reading, disregard God’s command. They can justify their decision: the fruit was good for food, a delight for the eyes, and desired to make one wise. They obviously understood the situation better than God. Screwtape might offer these words to describe what was at work here: vanity, self-centeredness, power grab, need to control, insecurity.

That act did indeed open their eyes to the knowledge of good and evil. They saw what they had done and knew their action fell under the second.  Just beyond this week’s reading, they hid from God. 

A concept of sin developed by Saint Augustine of Hippo and expanded by Martin Luther is Incurvatus in se – self turned in on itself. These days we might call it “navel-gazing”.  Online I found: “human beings find it impossible to escape the gravity well of self-interest”. Or maybe the black hole of self-interest? Luther also added that we are often unconscious of this fact. As Screwtape told Wormwood, it is most especially true when a pious person does pious deeds for his or her sake rather than for God’s sake. 

The Tester/devil who visits Jesus in the wilderness borrows Screwtape’s strategy of using Jesus’ nature to test/tempt him. My go-to Greek exegetical site* said that a more helpful translation for the devil’s words are “Since you are the Son of God…”. The devil concedes that Jesus’ is the Son of God; the tempting focuses on how the Son of God is to act. These specific temptations are only tempting if you are the Son of God. But each of them invite Jesus to turn away from God, into himself for…well, you could say vanity, self-centeredness, need to control, and most especially power. The power of creation at your command, the power of rubbing elbows with the powerful, the power of conquest and empire.

Lent invites us to examine our lives in light of our tendency toward Incurvatus in se. What are your special “weak points” that Screwtape and his minion could exploit?

Lent is a journey to the cross. What does that say about all this?

*Blog by D. Mark Davis - Left Behind and Loving It

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245