As the sun continues to rise on the just and the unjust alike, so too do various trials and temptations face each of us. These unwelcome attacks are inevitable, and often times when in the midst of such temptations-we often look to God in confusion and ask WHY? Why is God permitting these burdensome temptations when it is within His capable Hands to prevent any harm to come upon me? This question commonly surfaces when we’ve hit a low in our spiritual journey and feel that we are doomed to fail. Thankfully, St Isaac the Syrian (613-700 A.D.) gives a comforting answer to this unavoidable question.
In his 61st Homily, St Isaac addresses this very question and provides us with great insight into the attitude and approach we must adopt when battling any temptation that comes our way. According to St John, God permits us to face temptations in order to:
- Build our relationship with God. Temptations are intended to advance us along the spiritual path and allow for a deeper relationship with God. As long as we ‘cleave closely to God, seek His help with expectation and persevere in prayer’, we are guarded against all temptations. Sadly we often blame God for our seemingly dire situation and choose as a result to march into battle without our greatest ally. Inevitably, we fall into temptation and the vicious cycle of sin.
To avoid this and to ensure victory over sin, we must endure temptations by holding steadfastly to our loving God. Only then can we be filled with the boldness to gaze towards Him without the veil of shame and to pray to Him with all confidence.
- Increase our reliance on God. These spiritual battles are won only through our reliance on God, and reveal the powerful nature that we are clothed in as the children of God. In winning the battle, we truly learn the state of our weakness and fragility in the face of the enemy as compared to the Divine power of God as He intervenes to fight on our behalf. This is why God allows His saints, each of us, to be tempted, for in doing so we ultimately recognise and appreciate His working presence in our lives.
- Strengthen us against temptation. God permits these temptations in order to build us up. Our oppression in the face of these temptations is not intended to break us down, rather to strengthen us against the assaults of the enemy. ‘For how should the clay vessel endure the vehemence of the waters, if the divine fire had not hardened it?’ For ‘the son who is not trained will receive no profit from the riches of his Father’s house. For this reason, then, God first tries and afflicts, and thereafter reveals His gift.’
The experience to be gained from these hard times of tribulation is truly bitter sweet. Bitter because of the constant struggles and spiritual infighting that we must endure in order to overcome these hardships, and sweet because of the wisdom and spiritual training to be gained from battling these temptations.
Ultimately, temptation makes it easy to see just how high the Lord has raised us up from the pit of sin and the snares of the enemy. Truly we are powerless before the face of every temptation if we do not have the power of the Lord on our side. For this reason, St Isaac implores us to ‘submit ourselves to God, while beseeching Him humbly with perseverance in unceasing desire, we shall certainly receive all, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen’
Question: How will you tackle the next temptation that comes your way? Comments welcome below.
Read St Isaac the Syrian’s 61st Homily here.