“All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The tempter invites Jesus to secure the cooperation of the nations through the tried and true way of political force; to use questionable means – the ways of the world – for good ends. And the force of the temptation – its main allure to Jesus – was that this kind of power works!
If the tempter can’t get Jesus to sin through lack of faith, he’ll seek to get Jesus to fall because of his great faith. He says, “So you trust God, do you? Enough to place your safety completely in God’s hands? If you really trust God, jump from a great height. For if God is truly trustworthy nothing bad can ever happen to you. Right? Isn’t that what the scriptures teach?”
What could be so wrong with a hungry man turning stones into bread? This temptation is not nearly as benign as it initially seems. The tempter seeks to influence Jesus to allow immediate desires to overshadow ultimate concerns – to allow fidelity to God to fade into the background because of the pressing needs of the moment.
As sure as night follows days, so times of great revelation are followed by times of testing. One moment we have a mountaintop experience, hearing words of love from God: “Behold, my beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.” The next moment we find ourselves in a desert, wondering whether we are loved at all. It is here that faith is tested.
How does God respond to our doubts? My answer takes the form of three statements: (1) Doubt is understandable because there is an inherent “scandal” in God’s ways; (2) Doubt is not condemned because it is faith taking itself seriously; and (3) Though doubt is not condemned, neither is it applauded. God calls us to walk by faith, not by doubt.