Does God punish us for our sins?

I don't imagine God as a cosmic Santa making a list and checking it twice.

The Great Temptation

When we live our lives as if we were God

Written By William A. Kolb

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

We hear the word angst a lot. In theology it means that we are uncomfortable in our own skin. St. Paul talks about our yearning for a heavenly home, which suggests that we are not quite at home in this life. St. Augustine said that we were created by God for companionship with God, and that we will not be fully whole, until we have full companionship with God. To be human is to be imperfect; it is to struggle with our own humanity. We sometimes yearn for a fullness of love that is not usually found in this life. We may long for eternal life but on our own terms: to live forever in this life. We struggle against our own feelings of fear, anger and pain.

Our temptations and our sins are both signs of our humanity. To be human is to know temptation and to know our own sinfulness. I have heard sin defined as self-centeredness, a distortion of our God-given survival instinct. We all have it. We all have to struggle against seeing the world only through our own eyes. We all have to fight the temptation to try to run the world, or at least that part of the world that is close to us and that affects our daily lives.

Temptations in this life are probably a lot more subtle and a lot less simple than we might hear about in most churches. Our big temptations, as C. S. Lewis tells us in his legendary book MERE CHRISTIANITY, are not sins of the flesh. He says, and rightly so, thatthe really important and life-damaging sins have to do with spirit, with pride, with wanting to be God and wanting to run everything.

For example, Lewis describes God’s love for King David, who was transparently guilty of sins of the flesh. Lewis says that David was one of the Lord’s favorites. But people who go around with evil or vengeance or domination of others in their heart and on their mind, are far from God’s favorites. They carry a dark and prideful spirit.

Even God lets us have the freedom to make mistakes and to do things our own way, but for most of us humans, it is true that sometimes we want to control the lives around us, not even giving others the freedom to err that God gives us. It is truly a temptation to be controlling. It sneaks up on us. It comes from fear, it comes from pride, it comes from our attempts to make life safe and predictable.

But life isn’t and never will be safe and predictable. When it seems so, that is an illusion. Even if we can control those around us, that in itself produces unexpected and often troubling results that complicate our lives.

Our major temptation, then, is not the possibility of power or sins of the flesh. Those are symptoms of the Great temptation. The Great Temptation—the sin of Adam, who was the first to defy God and assume the arrogance of autonomy from Him—the Great Temptation is to rewrite the rules, tell God when He may and may not tell us what to do, and to live as our own God. That stance is kind of understandable when we are young—it is actually sometimes necessary if the young are to be so bold and brave as to forge new paths in their world.

But with experience and age, we learn that humility and worship are the attitude necessary to grow our souls and fill our souls.  Amen.

Copyright 2005 The Rev. Canon William A. Kolb.

Excverpted from a sermon preached at Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church,  Virginia Beach, Virginia on February 13, 2005.