11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, [c]yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
I have begun to think the primary problem of sin temptation arises out of a lack of proper perspective on human life. Why do I say this?
Human beings move, live, and have their being in the humdrum everyday experience. At the point of realization that things are, shall we say, mundane, we instantly turn to those activities which could bring a little excitement into the mix. Unfortunately for us, the human heart remains a duplicitous and wicked agent (Jeremiah 17:9), able to manipulate our brain and body into some pretty terrible situations where things just…happen. Or, they seem to just happen, but we led ourselves to that place. Temptations become a problem most due to one’s circumstances; you place yourself in a position to receive said temptation, and when it appears the pull begins in a mental loop begging for your attention.
Our minds work in a logical, rational fashion; as such, rather than see these sins for the horrific violations they are, we tend to justify them in our minds before even venturing out to “fall into” sinful actions. It allows us some leeway -perceived leeway, anyway – on the freedom of grace, and that gives us psychological license to place ourselves in this situations. Then, once we actually do or think whatever it is we really wanted to do, but weren’t willing to admit it to ourselves, we feel guilty, shameful, and in need of God’s forgiveness.
I, myself, have seen the wheel spin many times, and I believe I will see the wheel spin again. So where does one begin to attack the source, the antagonist, to Christian living (and by that, I do not mean demonic forces)?
See, the problem lies in our perspective. The human mind performs some wonderful tricks to get us at a particular point. I think of these situations as “sinful opportunity costs”. We believe in God’s promises, sure – that He prepares a place for us, that He will take care of us, that He saves us, and that we are worth something to Him, even if to nobody else. Promises, though, require trust; trust requires fulfillment at a later date, and we just aren’t that patient. God’s timing does not work on a 365 day calendar year. He does not say “I will answer Prayer X at Time Y”, or “I am definitely going to prevent you from giving into temptation right now!” God tends to make you, Christian, an equal partner in the reformation of human life, and that places a bit of responsibility on our shoulders.
Unfortunately, we hold only a limited perspective on God’s plans, precisely because His ways remain higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. As such, without an understanding of what God’s rewards constitute, or a precise date of payment, we begin to waver a bit. The perspective of eternity may lie in our heart, but we do not find out all the work which God did from beginning to end. We make the very utilitarian calculation, shamefully, that one or two sins here won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things; pleasure now, even misdirected pleasure, seems much better than waiting around for the intangible, if only for a moment. The opportunity cost of temporary pleasure now to awesome things later does not compute to finite minds, I suppose. Thus do we often end up doing things we think we don’t really want to do, much more than we think we should do it!
So where lies the solution to all of this? If anything, we must try to think as God desires, and not place ourselves into bad situations. That is, if you know what the problem is, merely cutting yourself off from the source will not stop it. It will find other ways to manifest, as your perspective on sinful behavior remains. Guilt and personal pity parties let you “off the hook”, so to speak, and that you will try better next time. STOP this cycle in its track. You need to break the continuous circle between doing a sin, feeling bad for it, and then placing yourself in situations where it will become more likely to happen. Sin does not exist in the eternal paradigm; we still live in vestiges of the “old ways”, and we try to adapt our previous way of thinking to this new life. That does not work.
Faithful living breaks the cycle, and that is hard work; specific rules and regulations for yourself do not break much of anything. You must live with an attitude of faith, as if you were walking on an invisible tightrope over a yawning chasm. And yet, you still walk forward straight across. If we stumble into temptation, it means we lapsed into conflating our old life with our new; one gives us definite rules and regulations to follow, while the other puts the keys in our hands to do good or evil. That isn’t easy, but take comfort that others have gone before you with the exact same problems! In fact, Paul says the whole Old Testament plays out, on one level, like a typology of helpful advice:
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them [b]did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them [c]did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them [d]did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10
An eternal perspective learns from the past to improve the present and work towards the future – that’s exactly what we need to do. Only, we need to apply the right viewpoint to that forward momentum. Otherwise, without eternity on the mind, you will fail early and often to break yourself out of a vicious cycle.