Someone once asked me if I’d read the whole Bible, and I said that perhaps, collectively I had, but never straight through. They said, “So what do you do when you finish?”
“You read it all over again.”
A relationship with God is like a good marriage (or vice versa) – maybe you heard each other’s stories a million times, but you still manage to form deeper connections, to fall more in love, to understand something new when discussing a topic for the million-and-first time.
I was reading John chapter 4 for the million-and-first time, and it was a bit sad to think it took 32 years for it to really mean anything to me. But that’s why you read it over and over and over. There are 31,000 verses in the Bible and you read until every single one of them finally travels from your eyes to your heart (okay, maybe the begats don’t need to go there, but you never know).
Anyway, the Temptation of Christ is kind of a staple story, but it’s so short and to-the-point it comes across as a little too… nice. A little too shallow. Satan offers Jesus a cigarette and He Just Says No. Easy-PSAy. The writer of Hebrews says that Christ was tempted in every way we are, but the dialogue of John 4, at first glance, gives me the impression that He flicks Satan away like an annoying spider. He’s God. What is the devil, to Him who converses with angels, but a pest to be smacked with a rolled-up Torah?
To pass the devil’s test, Jesus has to not turn stones into bread, not leap off the roof of the temple, and not bow to Satan to take over the world. Sorry, but I can’t quite see how that applies to what I’m going through here. Except maybe throwing myself off a bridge, which I must admit, sounds a little too good when Bartonella whispers in my ear straight to my inflamed and aching brain. *
And what is so bad about wanting some bread after fasting for 40 days? Heck, wave your finger and you can make it gluten-free and high-protein to boot. This whole thing suddenly reminds me of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She points the finger and boing, wardrobe crisis solved. Homework done. Pizza delivered.
But her aunts were always warning her about using her power irresponsibly. All the superheroes seem to have this problem. They discover their powers, and suddenly life becomes super convenient. Boing! -house cleaned. Whoosh! -at work on time. Ding! -bully gets a long-deserved heels-over-head wedgie. But it always backfires. Sometimes there’s a power bank and they’re repeatedly warned if they use it all up they won’t have enough left to save the world, or get back home. They try to fix everyone’s problems but end up with a mess.
Their relationships always suffer in some way or another.
Wow, maybe that’s the point I was missing all along (enlightenment by wizardry and radioactive spiders). What if this isn’t about “Just Say No” to sin, but about the way our relationship would suffer if Jesus used his powers for seemingly harmless purposes. He was God. He had the same powers within Him that created the universe, that created the stomach, that could satisfy hunger, that later turned fish into a feast, healed the sick, and raised the dead. What if it’s not just about Jesus being the perfect of example of how to obey, but exercising excruciating self-control and humility in order to know the trials of being human?
We see it later and more clearly on the cross, when they mock him for not being able to save himself. We know he could have. The urgent need, the temptation, to be spared was agonized and sweated out in the garden of Gethsemane. It had to be resisted or God would fail to show us the extent of His love - to lay down his life to show us the reality of resurrection. A desire to live, to avoid immense suffering, like eating bread after a 40-day fast, is not wrong. It’s only natural… only human. But God wouldn’t know that, would he? Unless he became human. Jesus must suffer. Jesus must be tempted. Jesus must resist putting on the cape with the big gold G on His chest so that he might know us. So that he might become us. So that we might know him... or maybe that we might know who we are.
Prayer in sickness is a tough thing, when you know that God’s thoughts are higher than yours. My initial reaction is to pray for healing. I want this suffering to end. As I draw near to God, as these stories I’ve heard a million times turn to diamonds only with the pressure of suffering bearing down on my carbon soul, I don’t have the heart to ask for healing. I see that only in being ill for a long time can I reap the greater reward of knowing God more fully and intimately. But oh, the agony in being called to such a task! Take this cup from me! Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done. I pray for the day when I can rest in these treasures, rather than weep in them.
I can only identify with Christ because He has identified with me.
If he had used his power to alleviate his suffering in hunger, he wouldn’t understand my suffering. If he had used his power to jump – either to end the agony of life, or to experience the thrill of defying gravity, or to call the angels and give Satan an atomic wedgie – he wouldn’t understand my helplessness in being human. If he settled for ruling this earth, he couldn’t take me out of it.
Jesus was not demonstrating a Superman, who could squash the Prince of Darkness like a bug, to show me that I must also don the cape and resist temptation. He, being an exterminator, let the spider – not the fun radioactive spider but the Black Widow – infest his house, crawl on him, bite him, infect him, so that he could incubate the cure for me. He was faster than a speeding bullet… and yet took it for me.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me! Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore! How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own; How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best! 'Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest! O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me; And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!
–Samuel Trevor Francis
*completely by coincidence, as I was writing with this song going through my head, I discovered that it was written after Francis nearly threw himself off a bridge.