Reading: Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11;
Matt 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit, to be tempted by the Devil. (2) And having fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards He hungered. (3) And coming near to Him, the Tempter said, If You are the Son of God, speak that these stones may become loaves. (4) But answering, He said, It has been written: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every Word going out of the mouth of God.” Deut. 8:3 (5) Then the Devil takes Him to the holy city, and he set Him on the wing of the temple. (6) And he said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it has been written: “He shall give His angels charge concerning You, and they shall bear You on their hands, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.” LXX-Psa. 90:11, 12; MT-Psa. 91:11, 12 (7) Jesus said to him, Again it has been written: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Deut. 6:16 (8) Again the Devil takes Him to a very high mountain, and shows to Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (9) And he said to Him. I will give all these things to You if falling down, You will worship me. (10) Then Jesus said to him, Go, Satan! For it has been written: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve Him only.” Deut. 6:13 (11) Then the Devil left Him. And behold! Angels came near and ministered to Him.
We discussed last week the importance of holding in our minds the idea that God as He is in Himself cannot be subject to temptation…
(13) Let no one being tempted say, I am tempted from God. For God is not tempted by evil, and He tempts no one. (James 1:13).
It is inconceivable that there could be anything in God to which the Devil could appeal so as to tempt Him. This then presents a question that needs addressing when we read this passage for if we hold to the truth that Jesus Christ is God, then how are we to understand what it says here, where clearly the literal sense of the Word speaks of Him being tempted. If we conclude that God can be tempted then we attribute to Him the finite limitations, frailties and weaknesses common to ordinary human beings, and He effectively ceases to be God for by definition God as He is in Himself has nothing in common with creation, He is by definition infinite or “not finite,” being “wholly other”.
Spiritual Christianity teaches that God as He is in Himself is above the comprehension even of the highest angels. No finite being can conceive of anything of the Divine Being as He is in Himself. He is beyond the mental grasp of every human and angelic intellect and so is unapproachable as He is in Himself. But of course the Creator desires that we be able to return His love, rationally and freely. If this is to happen, then we have to be able to form some idea of Him, for we cannot love what we can’t comprehend. For this reason the Lord God in His Mercy clothes Himself in a human form and presents Himself as one that has finite human attributes. We see this in the Word. In the Old Testament we see the one Divine Being presenting Himself to the Israelites on mountains, in pillars of cloud and fire, between the wings of the cherubim that cover the mercy seat in the tabernacle, we see God appear as a man and angel before Abraham and Jacob and in a burning bush to Moses.
In the Word God is said to have ears, eyes, nostrils, arms etc; He is said to ride upon the wings of the wind, of bowing the heavens to come down as if He travels through space. These are very natural ideas, ideas that describe God in finite terms, but we know that God possesses nothing of what is finite within Himself, for imperfection, limitation and finite attributes belong to creation not the Creator. So we see that the Word clothes the Divine in finite ideas which are the only kind of ideas we can grasp with our limited finite minds. In doing this the Word presents to us the means by which we can build up some idea of God, albeit very limited, that we can love. Each person takes from the Word those ideas that are compatible with their state or attitude to spiritual things. This is why different people draw different ideas of God from the same Bible. Such differences don’t lie in God as He is in Himself, nor are they found in the Word, but are constructed in the minds of those who look to the Bible to form their idea of God.
A person who comes to the Bible confirmed in unbelief will find nothing in it to change their mind; in fact their experience will most likely confirm the preconceptions they come to the Word with. Another person who comes to the Bible looking for a God who will support hard, judgmental attitudes tied in with a sense of moral or racial superiority will find all that they need in the literal sense to support that view and religious fundamentalism is given expression. One who wants a God who will support their pursuit of wealth and power will find plenty to justify a materialistic prosperity gospel to spur them on in their actions. Yet another person coming to the Bible looking to become a more loving and understanding in their attitudes will be lead to see that God is nothing but mercy, compassion, goodness and love. They will be led out of the literal sense of the Word into its spiritual applications for their life. Those who seek a God in their own image will find one, and those who seek to be recreated in the image and likeness of Divine Love and Wisdom will be led into a fuller more genuine sense of the true loving nature of God.
Natural reasoning in regard to spiritual and divine things of the Word leds to projecting finite attributes onto the Lord as He is in Himself. This is something that a spiritual understanding of the Word can certainly help us to avoid. Spiritual Christianity teaches that the Word in clothing God in finite attributes is an appearance, tailored to the sensual or natural thinking our minds are locked into before our spiritual faculties are opened. The need to present things in this way is seen in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus – the Lord used natural terms to describe a spiritual process saying that a man must be born again. Nicodemus struggled to get a sense of what the Lord was saying to him, in the end Jesus made this telling statement that applies to every person seeking truth…
Jh 3:12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
The way the Word presents its truths is to appeal firstly to our natural ideas and concepts in its literal meaning. This gives us the material from which we can form a rudimentary natural idea of God and if we are willing to take this and make changes in our life, the Lord then leds us into a deeper more spiritual understanding of Word.
But this progression will only occur as a person looks to the Word to examine their attitudes, patterns of thought and feeling in its light. When they begin to see the things in themselves that don’t align with the principles of the kingdom of heaven they are learning and seek the Lord’s help to have any negative attitudes and behaviours dealt with their understanding of the Word begins to open up and undergoes a transformation. It becomes more and more relevant to them as a support for their spiritual growth and development. The Bible with its stories are seen to have an inner meaning that describes their own processes and offers support to undergo what’s needed for their spiritual awakening.
We spoke earlier of the finite appearances the Old Testament uses to communicate an idea of God to us, so now let’s move into the New Testament. God is presented in the Gospels in the person Jesus Christ, and as we dealt with the finite terms attributed to God in the Old Testament so the same principle must be applied to the New Testament where God is said to be subject to finite limitations. In other words what we have presented in the person of Jesus Christ is a finite representation of the One and only God, the Divine Being, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exist, we have our God presented in a form that we can grasp with our minds and so approach, and love. This must be the case, because we know that God as He is in Himself cannot be limited by finite attributes otherwise He wouldn’t be God. If we don’t see this then, when we read the Scriptures we end up either, attributing human frailty and weakness to God, or rejecting God in Jesus Christ all together.
Jesus said no one comes to the Father but by me. That He is the only way to the Father. Essentially what he is saying is that without a finite representation of the Father, which He is as He Himself alluded to when He said I and my Father are One we have no way of connecting with God. This is why the Word states that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.
Through holding to the idea that the life of Jesus is a representation of the operation of Divine Love and Wisdom in the human mind we avoid thinking sensually about the Divine and can see that the presentation of God being tempted in the person of Jesus Christ is an appearance of truth. God is not able to be tempted, but what is constantly being tempted or tried is our finite understanding of God, which is if you like, is the Lord within us.
We all carry an idea of God, of truth and if we are serious about spiritual life and so are in an effort to live from spiritual principles and teachings, then life constantly offers up challenges to our commitment to live from spiritual principles rather than self interest. It is in these challenges that we discover what temptation spiritually understood is really all about. The purpose of temptation is a very positive thing from a spiritual perspective, as it is a process designed to strengthen our commitment to spiritual principles as the basis for our life.
The spiritual principles or truths that we have acquired from the Word and the teachings of the Church is actually the Lord with us. No finite being has or can ever have a perfect understanding of truth, because what we hold to, the perspectives we carry of others and life situations are influenced by self love and self interest. It is this self interest or self love that tries or tempts the truths we have in our minds. These truths or spiritual principles are not from us, they are from the Lord, and so are the Lord with us and the challenge that arises from self love that seeks to undermine them is what is understood by Spiritual Christianity of the Devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness. So with this in mind let’s have a look at the first of these temptations…
Mat 4:3-4 And coming near to Him, the Tempter said, If You are the Son of God, speak that these stones may become bread. (4) But answering, He said, It has been written: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every Word going out of the mouth of God.” Deut. 8:3
The first temptation that arises appeals to a state of hunger, which represents spiritually an appeal from out of self love to settle for what feels good as a substitute for what is truly good. If we took the time to reflect on our inner processes we would see that this temptation is something that happens every day as seek to live from spiritual principles. Whenever we move away from those principles we get gravitate back into old habitual patterns of being that give ground for the tempter.
The temptation is firstly “to speak”, it says to speak to these stones, to speak is to give expression to thought and it is the speaking that carries the power of transformation that “these stones may become bread.” This refers to the power of thought to transform something into something else. The key to understanding what this psycho-spiritual transformation involves as a temptation becomes clear when we understand what the two elements, stones and bread, represent in the inner world of our spirits.
Stones in the Word are a representative symbol for ideas we hold in our minds which can either be true or false. We can see this in that the Ten Commandments that were written into stone tablets – stone being a symbol for the permanent nature of these universal foundational truths. On the other side of things, people being stoned to death in the Word represents the harmful effects of false ideas on our life. False perspectives leading to low self esteem beat us down spiritually with negative self talk, a false sense of guilt and self incrimination, and do as much damage to our spirits as any barrage of stones could inflict on the body.
The important thing here, in this particular instance we are looking at today, is that these stones are something that self interest or the tempter wants us to make into bread to satisfy some desire. Needless to say that if it is self interest working, the stones must in this instance represent something false. The temptation to speak is a temptation to give expression to false thoughts or perspectives, so we see are dealing with a process of thought which can make what is false, the stones, appear to be something good for us, bread, for bread is a natural symbol for spiritual goodness that can satisfy the hunger of the human heart.
An example of how this might play out could run like this…we carry at some level a tendency to harbour false ideas or perspectives regarding another person, perhaps someone we don’t like or tend to clash with due to differences in personality and out look. Someone we have to deal with periodically due to the nature of the relationship we have with them or perhaps similar points of contact. We carry these false ideas because we find it difficult, or that it takes too much effort to see them in a positive light. By and large we can ignore our feelings. They are there but, we reason we can’t get along with everyone. What we may be unaware of is that such underlying feelings make us predisposed to looking to find, in their actions or behaviour anything that can confirm our false beliefs about them. We know from the spiritual teachings we have received that these attitudes toward the person are not what loving our neighbour is about, but we have yet to really take the bull by the horns to have it dealt with. So the ideas we are carrying sit just below the surface simmering away.
Then the person does something or says something that offends us in some way, what happens at this point is that the tempter comes in, the voice of self interest makes its presence heard in our mind, first appealing to our false sense of superiority, “If you are the Son of God….” then speak…that is, justify your false perspectives and ideas about the person, thus drawing a sense of satisfaction from the persons short comings and so making these stones into something gratifying or at least able to gratify what is lower in ourselves.
We all should be able to relate to some form of this temptation, but hopefully in seeing its dynamic played out here in the Word we might now find a way to resist it. The power of the Word comes in here. Jesus’ response embodies the only response available to us for dealing with this kind of temptation. Our ability to resist all thoughts and rationalisations that flow from self love or self interest comes from the Word. Without an understanding of spiritual principles we are inclined to react without thinking to situations and people. We express the first emotion that makes its presence felt and feel justified in doing so without giving any thought to the quality of the motive from which it’s flowing. But once we have begun to cultivate a spiritual dimension to our lives in response to what the Word teaches we begin to have in us something that resists these tendencies to put self first and give life to unloving attitudes.
The Word teaches us how we are to live if we are to experience positive spiritual growth in our life, and it says in relation to this kind of temptation…
Mat 4:4 …It has been written: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every Word going out of the mouth of God.” Deut. 8:3
In effect this is saying that what is truly human in us cannot live by reacting to satisfy whatever feels good in the moment, but that if we want to see those attributes of a true humanity that are sourced in the divine life, attributes of love, mercy, compassion, come more fully into their rightful expression through our lives then we need to learn to bring these reactive tendencies under the authority of spiritual principles, which is what it is to live from every Word going out from the mouth of God.
So the lesson for this week is to be less reactive in our responses and to make a conscious effort to curb our reactions in the light of the spiritual truths we have so that we can respond more lovingly from what the Lord is seeking to build up in our life.
AC 2183 [2-4] Many people are unaware that they have different planes within their mind, an inward plane, a reasoning plane, and a worldly plane, and that these planes are quite distinct from one another – so distinct, in fact, that one plane can actaully dispute with another. For the reasoning plane, spoken of as the rational side of a person, can dispute with the worldly plane, which is the worldly side of the person. The planes are so distinct, in fact, taht the rational side of the person can see and discern a fault in the worldly side, and, if it truly is rational, correct the fault.
Until the two planes are in alignment, a person cannot be an integrated person nor be in peace and quiet, because one plane fights with another. For the angels with a person guide his rational plane, but evil spirits who are with him guide his worldly plane. This gives rise to conflict.
If the rational level prevails, the worldly is subdued, and this gives a person conscience. But if the worldly plane wins, he can get no conscience at all. If the rational plane wins, his worldly level becomes just as if it, too, were rational. But if the worldly plane wins, the rational plane becomes worldly to all intents and purposes. Furthermore, if the rational plane wins, angles come closer to the person and fill him up with charity, which is something heavenly that the angels get from the Lord. Then the evil spirits go far away. However, if the worldly plane prevails, the angels go farther away – that is more toward his inner reaches – and evil spirits approach more closely his rational plane and keep attacking it, filling the lower parts of his mind with hates, resentments, deceits, and so forth.
If the rational plane prevails, the person finds peace and quiet, and in the other life heavenly peace. But if the worldly plane wins, he seems to be in peace while he lives, but in the other life he enters the turmoil and torment of hell.
This shows the human condition on the rational plane and on the worldly plane. So there is nothing that can make someone blessed and happy except for the rational level to keep the worldly in line and both to be in alignment. This is only accomplished by love for other people, which comes from the Lord. From the work Arcana Coelestia by Emanuel Swedenborg