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For Your Weekend: The Lie of Temptation and the Freedom to Fail

Laura Phelps

Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 4:1-11

Brené Brown confessed on her Unlocking Us podcast that when praying at Mass, she likes to change the words of some of the prayers so that they make more sense to her. “I always say in the Lord's prayer 'deliver us from fear and shame' instead of 'deliver us from evil.'” She agreed with her guest thatlead us not into temptation implies that God leads us into temptation.”[1] I can understand how people often misinterpret the Bible, but it is never okay to change the Word of God. Ever. Scripture is clear: You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I am commanding you (Deuteronomy 4:2). 

That said, why do we pray “lead us not into temptation?”

In tomorrow’s gospel, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. He fasts for 40 days and nights, and at the end of His fast, Satan enters the scene (because isn’t that who you want to hang out with when you’re exhausted and starving?), and the battle begins. Three times the devil challenges Jesus to turn from God’s will, but He doesn’t bite. Instead, He ends the encounter with a simple command, “Get away, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10). The devil leaves, angels appear, and, surprise, surprise, Jesus is triumphant.

Jesus was led into temptation and safe to assume, for good reason: nobody escapes temptation. But temptation is not the same as sin. Temptation entices us to disobey God’s will, whereas sin results from our consenting to temptation.[2] Knowing that sin leads to death (James 1:15), we ask the Father not to “lead” us into temptation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sheds light on this seemingly contradicting petition: 

"It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both 'do not allow us to enter into temptation' and 'do not let us yield to temptation.' God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin.”[3]

While temptation is inevitable, Scripture offers us hope: sin is a demon lurking at the door; his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master (Genesis 4:7). Two critical lessons are tucked in this verse: 

  1. Sin is described as a demon whose sole purpose for prowling like a roaring lion is to devour us by getting us to fall into sin (1 Peter 5:8). He studies our weaknesses, noting what entices us while lurking nearby. He patiently waits for the right moment: when we are tired, hungry, anxious, afraid, or alone. Then, he attacks. Pay attention, my friends: temptation always strikes at our weakest moment. 
  2. We can avoid sin. We don’t have to fall into the enemy’s trap; we can master it. As God’s daughters, we can overcome and have authority over sin. (See? I told you there was hope!)

Good news, for sure, yet the million-dollar question remains: why would God lead us into temptation? Why would He allow us potential harm? Wouldn’t a good parent protect their child?

Yes and no. 

Before my conversion to the Catholic faith, I was tricked by the enemy. He found me at my weakest and extended an offer, and I reached for it because I believed it would make me happy. Fun fact: it led to misery. And when the scales fell from my eyes, and I saw the lie of temptation, it was too late. I had fallen into sin. Although I sought out the sacrament of Reconciliation and changed my ways, my mind's favorite activity was to remind me of my past sins, leading me to question God. “Why, Lord? Why didn’t You stop me?”

Have you ever wondered why God allows you to do the things you wish you wouldn’t do? I have, and I found the answer, which I am happy to share. But I will give you a fair warning, you’re not going to like it. 

Sometimes, the temptation is necessary. 

The Catechism explains:

“There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way, we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us.”[4] 

God doesn’t lead us into temptation to hurt us. He allows the temptation so that we grow in virtue. In the trial, we recognize our weaknesses, disordered attachments, and lesser loves. He lets us fall because, for some of us, flat on the ground is the only way He can get us to quit staring at ourselves and look up. Our Father loves us so much He gives us the freedom to fail. 

But He always provides the way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).

"Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."[5] This was the way out provided for Jesus in the wilderness. He battled evil with the Word of God. “The more we know and understand the Word of God, the more useful we will be in doing the will of God and the more effective we will be in standing against the enemy of our souls.”[6] Evil is real, but we can fight it and be victorious when we know and claim the Word of God. No wonder Satan wants us to change it.

The culture loves to soften, twist, and dilute sacred Scripture. As a result, many are walking in darkness, glorifying evil, thinking there’s no such thing as sin. Resist this temptation. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom, join a Bible study, read the Catechism, or seek the counsel of a reliable teacher of the Catholic faith. Jesus Himself believed in the trustworthiness of the sacred Scriptures. We would be wise to follow His lead. Because if Jesus was invited into the wilderness to disobey God’s will, how much more will we be led to do the same? 

Food for thought or journaling…

Has the Spirit led you into the wilderness? How did the temptation test your spiritual progress?

Thank You, God, for the wilderness and Your Word that strengthens me. Amen.

[1] Brené Brown, Spirituality, Certitude, and Infinite Love, Part 1, Unlocking Us (April 2022): https://brenebrown.com/podcast/spirituality-certitude-and-infinite-love-part-1-of-2.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012), #2846.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012), #2847.
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012), #81.
[6] Got Questions Ministries, What is the sword of the Spirit?, (January 2022): https://www.gotquestions.org/sword-of-the-Spirit.html.

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