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Do Not Put God to the Test

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

(Matthew 4:5-7)

The temptation to turn stones into bread, to turn what God has given us into what we want, is obviously relevant in our daily lives. This one may feel more remote to those of us who aren’t inclined to death-defying tests of faith. Nevertheless I think the underlying temptation—to do what is dangerous or destructive and tell ourselves that God will take care of the mess we are about to create—comes up in my daily life and in the lives of others whom I know.

It’s easiest for me to see it in other people, of course. I’ve had friends tell me that it doesn’t matter how badly we deplete and pollute the created world, because God will come again and make a new heaven and a new earth and take care of us there. This sounds to me like putting God to the test, and it doesn’t accord with the promise that those who have been faithful in little things will be trusted with great things.

I’m also learning to see this temptation in my own life. Too often I work carelessly, shoddily—sometimes because I’m exhausted, sometimes because I’m distracted by worries and daydreams. Too often I excuse myself on the grounds that I am doing Good Work—living in Christian community, tending the earth, caring for my neighbors… and surely God will make it all work out right without my having to take responsibility. Of course it doesn’t work.

I know sometimes we need to let go of human prudence. Not long after Jesus refuses to test God by leaping from the temple, he comes to his disciples walking on the water. And at the end of his ministry on earth he gives himself up willingly to death, and God raises him to life. The important thing is to venture out in response to God’s calling and not to our own pride or carelessness. I think that if we pay attention we can tell the difference.

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