The desert experience
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
Henri Nouwen and other spiritual guides have found parallels to our own lives in the story of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. In his masterpiece Addiction and Grace, psychiatrist and spiritual director Gerald May does the same.
May likens Jesus’ experience with Satan to the ongoing temptation to meet our own needs, find our own power, and claim the world’s riches.
As Satan said to Eve so he said to Jesus, “You’re hungry. Get yourself something to eat.” Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus said “No.” Not with his own words, but the words of Scripture. “Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Satan came again, this time acknowledging God’s power but suggesting that Jesus manipulate that power by testing God rather than trusting him. In other words, make the goodness of God contingent on his gifts. Good gifts … good God. Bad gifts … bad God. But Jesus said, “No.” “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Once more Satan approaches with a vision of what Jesus could do in the world. “God is not who he says he is. It is I who can grant you the power to change the world. Just worship me.” Again Jesus found the right words, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
May points out that “Jesus really could have turned the stones into bread. He really could have proven his identity by jumping from the parapet. And he could indeed have ruled the world had he so chosen. But instead of giving in to the massive power of temptation to attachment, Jesus stood firm in his own freedom and in his faith and in grace.”
How do we deal with the insistent, unending temptation to make something other than God more important than God in our lives? Like Jesus, we can:
Stand firm without running away or rationalizing. Act with strength: claim and use our free will with dignity. Refuse to use our freedom willfully. By doing this we open ourselves to the miracle of accepting God’s grace.
May concludes, “Addiction cannot be defeated by the human will acting on its own, nor by the human will opting out and turning everything over to divine will. Instead, the power of grace flows most fully when human will chooses to act in harmony with divine will.
“This is the difference between testing God by avoiding one’s own responsibilities (God will take care of it), and trusting God as one acts responsibly.
“Responsible human freedom thus becomes authentic spiritual surrender, and authentic spiritual surrender is nothing other than responsible human freedom. Here, in the condition of humble dignity, the power of addiction can be overcome” (p. 137).
Lord, when you clean me I am clean, when you wash me I am whiter than snow. Let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a clean heart, O God.