(Picture Credit – http://cedricphilippe.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/temptation/)
The Scripture lessons for this coming Sunday all talk about temptation. This is a fitting topic given that we are beginning Lent tomorrow. That’s the time the church has designated as a time of preparation for Easter. It’s a time for us to do some self-examination and to see how God is working our lives and how we are separating ourselves from God. That’s one way to look at it anyway.
In common cultural terms, many people see lent as the time in which people give something up – typical examples are chocolate, or meat, or watching TV, or something of that nature. Many think of it as like a 40-day diet.
Some people see Lent completely opposite – a time to add something into their lives. A time to add in a practice of devotion or meditation, Bible reading or even physical activity in an effort to make their body more suitable as a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Here is something else to consider – temptation. Temptations happen all around us. We don’t have control over when and where temptation will come to us. Temptations remind us that we are not the ones in control of our lives. And temptation is an interesting thing. In a more traditional sense, temptation is not something that is ugly and outright evil. Instead, temptations are often presented to us as something very appealing, very alluring. That’s why we are tempted by these things. Temptations usually take of the form of something beautiful to us – something pleasing to mind, body, and emotions.
But what are temptations really? They are attempts to fill a void in our life. We all have holes and voids in our life from time to time – we are all human. When there is a vacuum, nature determines that the vacuum must be filled. Temptations are those things that we find appealing to fill the void with.
But, as we all know, those things often end up as temporary fillers. They waste away, decompose, digest, fall away, die, bring anger and resentment and shame. It seems that there is no hope to ever find a true, long lasting filler for the void within us.
But there is hope. Augustine wrote so many years ago that he could not find rest until he rested in God. God is the only thing that Augustine knew who would not abandon him, would not deteriorate, would not bring anger and shame. God provided rest for Augustine from his endless search to fill the void within him. That’s not to say that Augustine didn’t try – he tried relationships, sex, philosophy, religions, and who knows what else. This was a man who faced temptation and gave in to it time and time again.
And yet, God never abandoned Augustine, just as God never abandons any of us. So often we attempt to fill the void within us with distractions and noise. And what happens is that we think that God has abandoned us, or doesn’t exist. Instead, God has been there all along, whispering to us, waiting patiently for the noise and distraction to subside – for us to stop trying to fill the void within us. But God is there.
We do all these things believing that we are the only ones who can do something to fill the void. But Augustine found out that it wasn’t anything that he could do that finally filled the void. When Augustine finally stopped doing all these things is when we finally knew God’s love and the rest that God gave. God was the actor in his life, not Augustine.
The good news is this wasn’t just true for Augustine so many years ago, but it is still true for us today.