In Jm. 1:13-18 we find a reminder about the source of “temptation.” In 1:2-4, we find him telling his readers to treat temptation as a happy privilege (1:2) since it brings about virtue. In 1:13-18, he answers the question: “Can temptation come from God?” The argument runs this way:
- Temptation does not come from God in any way
- Temptation comes from one’s wrong desire
- Only what is good and perfect comes from God
- We are created out of His word of truth
The first line of the argument is balanced by the third line. God does not tempt anyone; goodness and perfection come from him, not the stirrings towards the darkness of sin that is contained in the idea of “temptation.” He calls God the Father of Lights, the maker of the glowing orbs, in whom there is no change. In Him, light does not turn into darkness. New Testament writers associate darkness, deeds of darkness (like sleeping) with sin and death. What James is saying here is that “to tempt (to sin)” is not of God’s nature and therefore no one claim that it is from Him.
James points to one’s disordered passion as the source of temptation. He does not mention the Devil as a source of temptation. In fact, if we look at the story of the first sin, Eve was tempted by the fact that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked good to eat (Genesis 3:6). The suggestions of the Devil, so to speak, made Eve look at the fruit in a different way. What do other sources tell us about temptation?
Catholic thought since St. Augustine point out two things that occassion temptation: concupiscence (weakness of the will to choose what is good) and ignorance (the darkening of the mind, preventing it from recognizing the truth). Christian asceticism is actually geared towards strengthening the will and clearing the mind. The formation of virtues and the contemplation of truth have always been marks of any authentic Christian formation. The goals however are not to eliminate temptation (since this is impossible) but to strengthen the human heart against it.
The first letter of John also mentions the lust of the eyes, the pleasure of the flesh and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) as cravings of the world (John 2:17). Temptation too can be said to derive from these since these characterize the world where the Christian lives out his days. However, like the Devil’s suggestions in Genesis 3, the cravings of the world that John mentions can be understood as an atmosphere conducive for sin produced by disordered desires.
James does not mention it, but the Gospels do say that the Devil tempted the Lord and that he is the Father of Lies. The baptismal vows include a three-fold rejection of Satan: of Satan himself, his works and his empty promises. Peter tells his readers to stand fast and resist the Devil who is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Finally, it must be noted that James does not dwell on temptation alone in these passages. He balances his statement about temptation with the declaration of what God wants for us. He writes that the Father of Lights wants us to be his children. Like the heavenly orbs, he wants us to be “heavenly”, destined to live with Him. God does not and will not tempt us since it is not a part of His plan for us. He created us with His word of truth. This “word of truth” is the gospel which has been accepted by his readers. The NAB gives us a fruitful indication to the meaning of the phrase
(T)he word of truth constitutes new birth (John 3:5-6) and makes the recipients the first fruits … of a new creation. cf. 1 Cor. 15:20; Rom. 8:23 (NAB footnote, for James 1:18)
In brief: James reminds us in these passages that temptation cannot be from God, for He wants only what is good for us. Temptation arises out of one’s disordered desires. Christian theology has shown us that such a disorder is an effect of the first sin. James however does not dwell on our weakness, but underlines the goodness of God and what He wants us to become.
Originally posted 2006-02-14 22:15:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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