Temptation: Less About Test and More About Trust


#Sundaychurch always produces a ton of fodder for blogging topics. Since I don’t preach on a regular basis I gorge on Word and Sacrament, and liturgy and music, symbols and light and…I just might burst at the seams with the richness of it all. But I have to get it down as soon as possible because the inspiration gets lost in meal-planning, reading, the battle over baths and pajamas and then I’m too tired to even catch up on TV much less coherent enough to muster up the fairy dust in what I saw and felt just nine hours before.

Something about this text always gets me. Maybe it’s the setting. The wilderness – a thin kind of place where all sorts of mythical and mythological creatures spar with each other for your soul. It seems like generally people will think of a dry, colorless desert as the first images come to mind when someone says the word, “wilderness.” But those who’ve experienced the deserts of the Black Mountains in South Dakota, Yellowstone of Wyoming, or the Grand Canyon in Arizona know that colorless is the least accurate description.

Andy shared a quote in his sermon: My dad’s good friend, Belden Lane, a professor at St. Louis University writes about what he calls “the solace of fierce landscapes.”

He says, “There is an impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.”

Mountain silence. Desert indifference. I can’t stop mulling over these words. A weird and unsettling truth to it. It reminds me that my tendency to think that Mother Nature should be a placid, gentle force that gathers us up like a sweet mother embraces a baby at her breast…is wrong.

I remember one of the weeks out in the San Juan mountains as a backpacking guide for high school students for Wilderness Ranch. I was guiding with two other females – it was a group of all girls. We had been on point the entire time, and the week couldn’t have gone more smoothly. It was the first time I felt really confident and natural in my ability to lead these trips. All the technical aspects were like breathing, and we were able to have fun. On a whim we decided to sleep out in the open under the stars – a romantic close to our week. Sandwiched between Callie and Julie – the other two guides – I woke up all of a sudden. It was still dark but there was an eerie light above us. I turned to Julie and saw that she was awake. All she said was, Look at those clouds. And I looked more closely and they looked like mammatus clouds. When I was in college I took a weather class and I had an obsession with clouds. These particular clouds look like clusters of bubbles – like the sky is foaming over and about to burst. We started to hear thunder and see lightening. Callie was quietly counting in between the flashes and rumbles, One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi. Five Mississippi…

She started over quicker and quicker meaning some kind of storm was headed our way. I started to feel the electricity. We decided to wake up the girls (who were all amazingly sound asleep) and groggily headed over to a sparsely clustered group of aspens. We instructed everyone to assume the backcountry safety position: Squatting (or sitting) and balling up so you are as low as possible and wrapping your arms around your legs, keeping your feet together. 

We were saying a lot of prayers out loud together. Something about the combination of nighttime exhaustion, strange lights, thunder and lightening seem to magnify emotions, and maybe even cloud judgment – who knows, if we were doing what was right or even necessary. We ended up fine, and even got our bags back out and all fell asleep right there under the trees. But, what struck me at the moment, and had many times before, was that Mother Nature is not one to fuck around. I mean, seriously, don’t mess with Mother Nature. In other words, we are creatures, we are creation, and God is the Creator. There are no other spaces in reality that remind me of this so forcefully than being in the wilderness.

So Jesus goes out into the wilderness. And it’s always couched in the language of temptation and sin, and testing. Ok those words are actually in Scripture. And, yeah, I totally see that in it, but what I heard finally this past Sunday that it’s not so much about testing us. Testing our strength. Wisdom. Intelligence. Power. Even our faithfulness and loyalty. It’s more about trusting. Do we trust God’s words to us that we are truly God’s beloved? Do we trust that we have all we need in God’s continuous bending towards us so much so that we will happily feast on rocks and stones, mudpies and dirt cookies? Do we trust in God’s steadfastness towards us whether we’ve got those angels catching us or tending to us in our bone-tired-want-to-roll-over-and-die exhaustion? Do we trust God’s love for us whether we are able to see everything from that gorgeous mountain summit or crouched down under some wispy aspens for “protection” down in the valley-of-the-shadow-of-death under a storm about to unleash all of Nature’s worst? Do we cling and lash ourselves (in Brennen Manning’s Ragamuffin fashion) to God’s provision, power, and promise?

What our temptations ultimately boil down to isn’t something or someone trying to deter us from upholding some kind of superficial morality or a character-building activity.

We aren’t supposed to test God’s faithfulness, not because it’s offensive or presumptuous but because we shouldn’t need to test God. But, we do it and we test ourselves too. Jesus went out there not to test his own faithfulness or strength or divinity but to remember his humanity and creatureliness, and that he too needs God’s love. God passed the test. When Jesus “passed” that test – that he too is creature – he went on to do miraculous things. And he had firm footing in God, the one who calls him Beloved, the one who will never fail us.

“There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscience, so apparently moral…But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.” 

― Annie Dillard

10 thoughts on “Temptation: Less About Test and More About Trust

  • March 10, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    OOOH. I love this. Don’t know if it’s ‘all process’ or not, but I like it. We do need reminders that there is a wildness to the world. That’s one reason why I love the ocean, i think. There is no controlling anything about it. I guess what I struggle with in your lovely reflection are these lines: “We aren’t supposed to test God’s faithfulness, not because it’s offensive or presumptuous because we don’t have to test God. God has shown and proved over and over that we are the apple of God’s eye.” Maybe a word got dropped or switched in the first sentence? Because maybe that’s exactly what Jesus WAS testing — was he truly the apple of God’s eye? I’m guessing he didn’t always feel like it and had to learn to go beneath the feelings, way down to the nitty-gritty – without food/water/rest and see what was left. Can God be found trustworthy there? Jesus found God so, it seems. I wonder, do I?

    • March 10, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      I totally mis-wrote! Fixed it but still not sure if it makes sense. I was trying to say that God and Gods sovereignty means that we don’t have to test God. We say God is sovereign then that orients us the right way. But I do think we need something beyond and outside of us to live that meaning out in our bodies. And even Jesus felt that need in his own flesh and blood. So he was testing I think his belief/trust in that Sovereign God. Which I think is what you are saying? Hard to tease out who exactly is doing the testing and being tested. Jesus needed to find the true north. Was the testing trying to orient him a different way?

  • March 10, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Got it now – thank you! What I was trying to say is that I believe that Jesus experienced the sometimes wretched mess of human emotions that we all must deal with from time to time. The longer I live, the less I believe that feelings, in and of themselves, are sinful – so that gives me room in my thinking about the incarnation for Jesus to feel all.the.things, you know? So on that basis, yes, I think there was a lotta double=testing going on there. By assuming our limits, our flesh, Jesus’ communication with the Father had to be truncated in some ways, right? I believe that Jesus was able to fully develop a deep level of contact over his lifetime – and that was the original goal for all of us. So Jesus lives it out for us – a fully human life. I’m babbling – I’ll stop now . .

    • March 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      Yes for sure! I totally agree! You’re so good. Where do you live? So wish we could get coffee and talk for hours.

      • March 10, 2014 at 11:34 pm

        I live in Santa Barbara CA, Mihee. Where are you?

      • March 11, 2014 at 8:05 am

        Oh jeez. So jealous. Bloomington, IN. Someday…?

      • March 11, 2014 at 5:23 pm

        I believe in dreams. :>)

  • March 11, 2014 at 5:10 am

    MKK … very nice. I like the point you make about the mingling of testing and trusting. I think it’s a healthy mixture of both, actually. I love how you weave in the wilderness visual to paint the picture of both awe and trust. And, by the way, I love the San Juan Mountains. Got a few mountain bike stories about the San Juans. Thanks for sharing!

    • March 11, 2014 at 7:29 am

      Oh thanks. And glorious, right? Those mountains are God’s country. Would love to hear those stories. Thanks for popping by.

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