Sunday, May 10, 2009

sifting the soul

An animated series that my children love begins with the son of the evil ruler relentlessly chasing the character that represents good. Well into the series he renounces his evil heritage and joins the forces of good in the world. His first few efforts don't go well however, and at one point he screams, "Why is it so hard to be good?"
This is the question that Henry Wilder Foote takes up this morning in our continuing Sabbath series on the Lord's Prayer.

"Lead us Not Into Temptation"

The true function of temptation in our human life was stated by Jesus in one striking pictorial sentence, in a conversation with his disciples, when he warned Peter that temptation was the very sifting of the soul. "Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat."
How vivid the picture which it must have called up to his disciples' minds, that primitive process which they had seen every harvest time since they could remember!...

It is a living parable of that which Christ seeks to teach by the illustration. So, he would tell us, temptation is no light thing; it shakes the soul with a perpetual disquiet and annoy; it will not let it remain in peace, any more than the grain which the energetic holder shakes in air can sleep in its receptacle. The winds of heaven, cold and searching, must blow through it.

Every test must be applied which will sift the golden grain of character, sweet and wholesome, and free it from the chaff of a light- minded and frivolous spirit, which the breezes may blow where they will, — from the lumpish and earthy sins which only by this thorough winnowing can be purged away from the wheat of the soul. And if the sifting reveals the substance of the character to be but poor stuff after all, at least the test has been applied ; the opportunity has been given. We are revealed honestly, as we are, as we have chosen to be. And how searching the tests are by which the whole being of man and woman is tried and proved in this world of God!...

The discipline of temptation is what we must have to toughen the moral fibre. How can the soul learn to choose good rather than evil, unless it has the evil presented to it as well as the good ? This world mysterious...

The sum of the whole doctrine of temptation is in this, — that it is the needful discipline of the immortal soul "Temptations," says a Roman Catholic writer, "are the raw material of glory." And every step of the long struggle, in which the higher gains the mastery over the lower, the spirit over the flesh, is a step onward and upward, at which we may well believe that the very angels of God raise songs of triumph.

I know, indeed, — ah ! who does not ? — by what slow degrees and toilsome and difficult ascent we struggle upward. I know the infinite evil if we fail. But shall we not still rejoice to be called to the solemn privilege which belongs to the children of God ? Shall we go complaining all our days of the hardships which prove to us the worth of the soul educated at such a cost ? No! if temptations are your lot in life — the school of trial which is the school of faith — you will go on resolved the more to wrestle with them till they disclose their heart of meaning, remembering that the Captain of our salvation was tried in the same furnace, was "made perfect through sufferings," was tempted and overcame.


1 comment:

David G. Markham said...

Hi BU:

This temptation business is, I think, a bad metaphor.

Plato said that a person always chooses the good. I think this is right.

What we fight is not evil, but ignorance, a lack of awareness. It is in our stupidity and in our lack of wisdom that we fail.

All the best,

David Markham