Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Temptation

The urge to disobey rules which have been externally, coercively imposed is not temptation, it is resistance. Temptation is only comprehensible within the framework of covenants freely entered into. In order for a covenant to have meaning, it must not only be freely entered into, but with full knowledge of the nature of the covenant. When two parties enter into an agreement, and one party fails to provide critical information that would change the nature of the agreement and that might, if disclosed, dissuade the other party from entering into the agreement, that is not a covenant. That is a fraud. But when we have all the information necessary to make a particular covenant, and when we freely agree to abide by that covenant, then and only then can we experience temptation.

Oscar Wilde famously said: "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." But a life without temptation, and without resistance to temptation is a life without meaning, without growth, without structure, and ultimately without joy. That is because the promises we make, make us! When we make a promise, any promise, the very nature of it means we will sooner or later encounter a situation where it might be temporarily advantageous to abandon our promise. If it weren't so, there would be no need to make a promise! And it is those situations where the seriousness of our promises is tested. It is those situations where we get to see how much we really meant what we said, and whether we are the kind of people who are able to keep promises. When we succeed at these kinds of tests, we begin to build character. Our life begins to take a form that is shaped by our intentions, our desire and ultimately, our love.

So temptation is a good thing! When we experience it, we know that we are making something of ourselves! We are choosing, and being true to our choices. Nothing is more tragic than a life in which we drift along, never letting anything more than the contingencies of each moment determine our choices. Granted, there is a kind of freedom we can experience as drifters. It can feel good to let go of everything, to hold on to nothing, to let life take us where it will, like a leaf on the current. Maybe we all need to experience that kind of freedom at least for a time. But eventually we learn that a life lived too long without commitments is a life devoid of the deepest satisfactions. That's what Mormons think of as a "telestial" life. But even the liberal UCC prays for God to protect us from a life of "aimlessness and sin."

Temptation can be painful. But if you think about it, the more painful the temptation, the better it is at shaping our character. It is the really, really painful temptations that force us to decide what it is we really want in life. And we can only surmount such temptations with a grander view of ourselves and our life's purpose. That's why prayer, meditation and scripture study are so important. Any kind of spiritual practice is, effectively, a urim and thummim to us. It helps us see ourselves and our world in a larger, more timeless perspective, a perspective that will provide us the knowledge necessary to make the kinds of promises worth making...!

When we experience temptation, we sometimes feel dirty, we feel bad. We feel as if we must be weak or immoral to experience temptation. It is not so. Temptation means only that we are alive, and that we are on a journey that is worth going on!

I said earlier that temptation is only meaningful within the framework of covenants, and that covenants can only be made under conditions of knowledgeable consent. All of us, if we live long enough, will have the experience of making a commitment under one circumstance, only later to learn and to grow and to acquire knowledge that sheds new light on our circumstances and our promises. This is a natural process, and it is a good process. In a religious framework, we can look at this in terms of lower laws and higher laws; telestial laws, terestrial laws, and celestial laws. We begin at one place, and we make a series of promises within a more limited framework. And those promises shape our character, allowing us to grow and learn. Eventually, we come to a point where the old promises no longer make sense. New knowledge requires renegotiation. We enter into and accept higher laws and make higher covenants which become a new framework for character growth. The times of transition can be disorienting. They can even feel very much like times of temptation. But they are something of a different order entirely.

But wherever we are in the journey, temptation does not leave us. If anything, temptations become more challenging and more painful as we become more sensitive to the nuances of choice available to us, and as we become capable of handling greater challenges... We don't need to seek temptation; indeed, it's usually wise for us to pray for God to keep us from it for as long as possible. But temptations will come, and when they do, we should ultimately be grateful for them. I know I am.

6 comments:

Beck said...

Temptations do come! And I, too, am grateful for them when they do. My life has been defined by covenants and resistance to or acceptance of temptation. Whether that has brought "meaning" to my life is up for grabs. I am who I am by how I react, resist, accept, embrace or ignore said temptations.

J G-W said...

Hey Beck!! Ages since I've heard from you on my blog! I'm glad this rings true for you as it does for me...

In many ways, we choose our temptations by the choices we make in life.

Anonymous said...

Where would you place the individual who, at a relatively young age, goes through the temple, accepts those covenants, does his best to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ as outlined in those covenants, only to be able to, years later, come to the acceptance that he is gay and now wrestles with how he can live those very covenants? Was a fraud perpetrated against him in that he either did not or could not believe and accept he was gay, but has now come to that knowledge? How is he to reconcile himself with who he is, a gay man, and the covenants from the temple he made as a young, but not fully developed emotional human being and gay man?

Jared

Reuben said...

John, I really appreciate what you've written here about covenants, especially the part about the necessary process of renegotiation.

J G-W said...

Jared - If we grew up gay in the Church, we were told by Church leaders what this meant: that same-sex attraction was not real, that it was ephemeral; that if we just ignored it or exercised faith it would go away or we could be healed.

Lots of gay men made decisions based on that information, only later to learn that it was completely false... Often then we were blamed for the guilt, heartbreak and family chaos that ensued, and told that our faith was insufficient, etc. We all know the stories.

So yes, many of us made promises without information that was relevant to the decision. A conscious fraud may not have been perpetrated... Church leaders for the most part told us what they believed to be true or correct. But it was false. I'm not sure that promises made based on insufficient or inaccurate information can be considered binding.

Making promises/covenants with God and with the Church is crucial to our salvation... We need to do this. But in order to do this, we need a certain amount of self-knowledge too. So self-knowledge is also crucial to our salvation...

J G-W said...

Reuben - I guess it's kind of shocking to use the term "renegotiate" in the framework of covenants. But if we look at how covenants work, it in fact is a progressive process.