For instance, if a person is devoting all of his time and energy to a charity that is doing extremely important work then that would appear to be good. However, this is a problem because the “good” work is not the right choice. He does not feel filled by the work, and it is detracting from his true calling in some other profession.
But how are you supposed to know you are doing the wrong good? Elnes says of this problem, “[m]ore often than not, your intuition— your deep listening to the voice of the Spirit— is a better judge than your logic, reason, or strategic ability. Thus, the gift of temptation also refines your listening ability like no other— often through suffering the consequences of acting against your intuition.”
The Second Temptation by William Blake is as an illustration of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness following his baptism in the Jordan River. Here the devil does not look particularly threatening, if a bit grey, and he and Jesus are pointing in the same direction. What vehicles were used to tempt Jesus? For the most part, Jesus was not tempted by obviously bad things. He was tempted to feed the hungry, to perform extravagant miracles.
Crucially, these temptations were not the good Jesus was intended to perform. The extreme nature of these overly good examples would have left Jesus’ humility & humbleness before God compromised or even shattered. As Elnes points out, Jesus would have been even less tempted than us to do evil. So the test Jesus must overcome is, can he give up the temptation to do good works that are not meant for him. He must lay down the temptation to help everyone, in order to fulfill his life’s purpose.
Have you fallen into the trap of doing “good” work that was not the correct path for you? How did you come to realize this? How did you address the situation? What did you learn? Was leaving the “good work” behind a more difficult decision than taking it on in the first instance?
Is this a more difficult temptation than the temptation to do wrong? How and how not? Here Elnes engages in an interesting story about how he envisions the devil, or “the Adversary”. On the same kind of reasoning, Elnes sees the treacherousness of the Adversary’s invitation to be more nuanced than a simple invitation to do bad things. He imagines the Adversary as trying to protect humans from learning the hard lessons of the Dark Wood.
According to Elnes, the Adversary might placate people with a cheap tonic of beer or provide covering from harsh weather. This is a problem because we are supposed to feel the harsh emotions the cheap beer prevents us from feeling. Likewise, we are supposed to experience the harsh weather, dark woods conditions, so that we can deepen our understanding of God’s intended path for us. God’s ultimate objective is to bring us to our core self, not to leave us wandering in the dark wood forever. Elnes writes, “[t]he Adversary’s highways and byways might lead them to the next tavern, but the Dark Wood’s paths would lead them home.”
Are you tempted by the hazards of taking a route that is easier than the one intended for you? How might your discernment be assisted in these difficult, nuanced waters?