Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bible Portraits: The Tempter (Part 2)

I thought I might have nipped it all in the bud before there was any chance of a mishap, had my servant Herod not fouled it up and lost track of him. But, as I have told you already, I can be patient when I need to be and so I bided my time till the perfect moment should arise.

That opportunity came only a short while ago. Thirty years and more had elapsed. He had gone out into the wilderness, to be alone with the Lord God (he has the audacity to address him as “Father”) in fasting and prayer. They are such fools, these humans! To undergo such deprivation when it will get them nowhere!

There comes a point when your hunger can be such that the little round rocks on the desert floor can begin to appear as loaves of bread. That was the very moment at which I came up behind him and whispered in his ear, “If you really are God’s beloved child, sharing his power and like him in so many ways, surely he does not want you to starve like this? Why not command one of these rocks to become bread? Look! There are so many of them around. Do you really think God will miss one of them? Do you suppose he will mind you having a tiny snack out here? And if he does, what kind of god is he anyway? It all sounds rather sadistic to me. Surely God wants you to have some small pleasures in life? After all, if you don’t look after yourself, how are you going to be of any use to him or to anyone else?”

He did not even look around. Without a gesture, without a hint of emotion, he picked up one of those hot rocks, held it in his hand and said to me, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Clever response. I knew the words were not his own. Someone had done too good a job on him as a child, teaching him from that cursed book they call scripture. I had lost round one. But I know their “scriptures” as well as they do. And I have often used them to my advantage before.

So that was exactly what I did. I took him to the temple, to its very top. “Do you really believe those scriptures of yours?” I asked him. “Then how about this one: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’? Or this: ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone’? Surely you are familiar with these? If you really believe them, why don’t you jump? Or maybe you don’t really believe that God will come through for you.” It’s not a line of argument I’d use with an ordinary person. A lot of them say they believe the scriptures, but when their so-called faith puts them in the face of danger or death, it invariably takes a back seat to self-preservation. Every once in a while, though, you come across a fanatic, someone who really lives what they believe. This one was clearly one of them. He was just the type to take the leap…

Or so I thought. Coolly he looked down on the hard paving stones below. Then he turned to me. There was a clarity and an honesty in his eyes that I had never seen in another human being. At that moment I almost began to fear. “It seems to me,” he retorted, “there’s a scripture you’ve ignored: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Appealing to his appetite hadn’t worked. Neither had challenging his faith. Clearly I had to take another tack. I took him up onto a mountaintop. It seemed as though the whole world stretched beneath us. So much of that world was mine already, but I will not be satisfied until I have it all, right to the very last wretched man and woman. As we gazed down into the valley below, I made him an offer that I thought no human being could refuse. For as I look into their hearts, I know that, like me, in their own pathetic ways they all want power of one kind or another. “All this I will give you,” I said to him, “if you will bow down and worship me. It will all be yours, to do with whatever you will.”

As he turned to me once again a shaft of bright sunlight shone into the valley below. There was no quaver in his voice. Nor did he did not shout. He merely spoke the words, but with such firmness and authority as I have never heard before. “Get away from me, Satan! For the scripture says, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.” I will admit to you that I was truly shaken. I have not seen such strength in a man. I had no alternative but to turn and go.

Looking back for one last glimpse out the corner of my eye, I could see angels coming to his side. So that was the trick! The Lord God had his hand upon him! No matter! It only makes me all the more determined. Indeed I have only begun. He will see. I will come upon him with such fury that he will wish he were never born. I will make him curse the very god whom he calls Father, in whom he puts such trust. I will not be satisfied until I take the whole world as my prisoner, until I ascend to the tops of the clouds and make myself like the Most High, until I ascend to heaven and raise my throne above the stars. That is my destiny, and I will have it no other way. I will be God!

Heavenly Father,
our enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion,
seeking to devour us.
Protect us, we pray, by your mighty power,
that we may resist his wiles and stand against him,
and that we may be faithful to the One
who was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin,
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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