Lent with Bonhoeffer: Lead Us Not into Temptation

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Lead us not into temptation. Natural man and moral man cannot understand this prayer. Natural man wants to prove his strength in adventure, in struggle, in encounter with the enemy. That is life. “If you do not stake your life you will never win it.” Only the life which has run the risk of death is life which has been won. That is what natural man knows. Moral man also knows that his knowledge is true and convincing only when it is tried out and proved, he knows that the good can live only from evil, and that it would not be good but for evil. So moral man calls out evil, his daily prayer is–Lead me into temptation, that I may test out the power of the good in me.

If temptation were really what natural man and moral man understand by it, namely testing of their own strength–whether their vital or their moral or even their Christian strength–in resistance, on the enemy, then it is true that Christ’s prayer would be incomprehensible. For that life is won only from death and the good only from the evil is a piece of thoroughly worldly knowledge which is not strange to the Christian. But all this has nothing to do with the temptation of which Christ speaks. It simply does not touch the reality which is meant here. The temptation of which the whole Bible speaks does not have to do with the testing of our strength, for it is of the very essence of temptation in the Bible that all our strength–to our horror, and without our being able to do anything about it–is turned against us; really all our powers, including our good and pious powers (the strength of our faith), fall into the hands of the enemy power and are now led into the field against us. Before there can be any testing of our powers, we have been robbed of them. “My heart trembles, my strength has left me, and the light of my eyes have departed from me” (Psalm 38:10). This is the decisive fact in the temptation of the Christian, that he is abandoned, abandoned by all his powers–indeed, attacked by them–abandoned by all men, abandoned by God himself. His heart shakes, and has fallen into complete darkness. He himself is nothing. The enemy is everything. God has “taken his hand away from him” (Augsburg Confession, XIX). “He has left him for a little while” (Isaiah 54:7). The man is alone in his temptation. Nothing stands by him. For a little while the devil has room. How is the abandoned man to face the devil? How can he protect himself? It is the prince of this world who opposes him. The hour of the fall has come, the irrevocable, eternal fall: for who will free us again from the clutches of Satan?

-from Temptation, pgs. 111-112

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