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13th January: God's Limits (2) -- The Limits of Protection

You shall not tempt the Lord your God. Matthew 4:7

The second temptation which assails Jesus is more subtle (Mt 4:5-6). It comes as he is transported to the pinnacle of the temple (whether in body or in mind does not matter): `Throw yourself down, you won't hurt yourself. God will send his angels to look after you, lest you strike your foot against a stone'. It is both more subtle and more devilish. The Tempter seems perversely to take his cue from the response of Jesus to the first temptation: to show that he too can quote Scripture (Ps 91:11-12).

Jesus as firmly as before rejects the concept of God as Protector. There are certain natural consequences of every action or situation, and it is not God's responsibility to ensure that the natural forces of gravity, wind, flood, earthquakes or micro-organisms are miraculously suspended to ensure that someone is not harmed. Jesus himself, the healer, the stiller of storms, is one who knows what it is to be tired and to suffer pain, who goes willingly to the cross rather than claim God's protection as a right (Mt 26:53). His disciples don't understand. Peter goes so far as to rebuke him for the very idea, bringing upon himself Jesus' strong censure: `Get behind me, Satan!' (Mt 16:23). He takes his three most intimate associates up the mountain to meet the father, to learn that God can be his Father without necessarily being his protector from physical harm. Perhaps it was this that earned for Jesus his second audible approbation from God: `This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him'.

How in the light of this second temptation do we interpret the father's love and care? Do we present him as one whose duty it is to protect us, forgetting that Jesus himself, in his human form, had to go without an answer to the problem of pain? Perhaps we should learn to base our faith not so much on God's power to alter our material environment as on his willingness to live with us through it.

Lord, help me to know you are with me in all circumstances.
Help me not to forget you when things go well.
Help me not to doubt you when things go badly.
Help me to know that nothing can separate me from your love.

Further reading: Matthew 4:1-7. Romans 8:28-39.


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