If God Truly Loved Me, Would He Allow Me to Suffer Horribly and Be Tempted to Sin?

by Rev. Fr. Dominic Radecki, CMRI

(Fall, 2012)

The allurements of the world and the lust of the flesh work to keep us from God and lead us to disobey His commandments by tempting us with an apparent good or poisoned pleasure. Our disordered pas­sions and senses are lured by the bait of sinful pleasure to which we so often fall prey. In addition to these spiritual dangers which confront us, we must also wage war against the temptations of the evil spirits who are constantly seeking the ruin of our immortal soul.

“St. Anthony the Hermit Tortured by the Devils”, Sassetta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Our powerful and crafty spiritual ene­mies continually study our weak points in order to tempt us to sin when we are most vulnerable — either in our moments of weakness or when we are lulled by a false sense of security. In a vision, St. Antony saw the whole world covered with traps set by the evil spirits to ensnare unwary souls. If things were this bad during his lifetime (the 4th century), they are at least a thousand times more perilous today.

“The Roaring Lion” Raden Saleh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Satan and His Demons Target Those Who Are Striving to be Holy

St. Peter warns us that our adversary “the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). This imagery is very powerful because these fear­less predators are very strong and skillful hunters. The devils are constantly scheming and working for our spiritual destruction. We must never let our guard down for “the devils lurk along our path like robbers and assassins” (Hom. 11, in Evang., St. Gregory the Great). Satan and his army of demons are driven to this restless energy by their hatred of God and the human race. They know that those who lead virtuous, God-centered lives will likely save their souls and be rewarded with the heavenly thrones which they themselves lost forever because of their pride and disobedience. Because of this, they harbor a deeper hatred for devout souls, attempting to seduce them with fierce temptations and lead them astray.

St. Jerome stated that the devil’s efforts and time are primarily directed toward the members of the Catholic Church, not infi­dels and pagans. “He strives for the undoing of Christian souls, and among these, to use the expression of the prophet Habacuc, chosen souls are his more agreeable prey. Thus did he fix his eager eye on holy Job, whom he made the [target] of count­less formidable assaults, in order to devour him. He aimed at Judas, an Apostle of Christ, one of the pillars and foundation stones of Holy Church; and when he had torn him to pieces by the assaults of a sor­did greed of money, he extended his designs to all the other Apostles in a body, desiring to sift them all by his evil suggestions, and to grind them to powder as flour is ground by a mill. Of this our blessed Lord gave them warning” (Ad Eustoch. de Custod. Virgin).

“Job on the Ash Heap”, Jusepe de Ribera, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The devil does not disturb those who have given him full possession of their souls through habitual mortal sin. On the other hand, he reserves his most fierce tempta­tions, fiendish snares and vicious attacks for those who strive to live a virtuous life and refuse to be subject to him. This is very logi­cal, for a dictator never wages war against his loyal followers, but only against those who withstand his tyranny and oppression.

Let Temptations and Trials Encourage You as Proof of God’s Love

St. John Chrysostom tells us that we will find no one who is very dear to God who has not been tried by the most grievous temptations. “He proves this by the example of St. Paul who, though a most ardent lover of Our Lord and most tenderly beloved by Him, far from being exempt from these disturbances, was more than anyone made the [victim] of the most violent tempta­tions. Spiritual persons may take comfort from this when their minds are clouded and darkened by evil thoughts and their hearts filled with impious and filthy temptations; for these diabolical disturbances are plain tokens that they are dear to God and hence are the enemies of His enemies. Let this encourage them for the struggle, as they may be assured that the greatest heroes of the Church were not exempt from the like suggestions” (J. B. Scaramelli, S.J., Guide to the Spiritual Life, vol. 2, p. 293).

In Holy Scripture we read, “Son, when thou comest to the service of God, prepare thy soul for temptation” (Ecclus. 2:1). St. Gregory the Great clearly describes our unceasing, lifelong war against the world, the flesh and the devil: “When thou comest to the service of God, the spirit does not invite thee to an agreeable, undisturbed repose, but summons thee to wars, struggles, conflict, combats. The devils, leagued for thy ruin, will allow thee no peace. And the more thou shalt show thyself determined not to yield and shalt withstand their [com­mands], the more vio­lently will they pursue thee with countless evil suggestions in order to break down thy con­stancy” (Moral. lib. 24, cap. 7). However, it is also undeniable that a virtuous life brings true peace of soul. This peace, found from being loved by God and serving Him, brings heavenly joy and contentment. Souls who cooperate with God’s grace and seek to imi­tate Christ also experience a freedom from the remorse, guilt and shame of a heavily burdened conscience, with its ever-present fear of everlasting damnation. In addition, occasionally, God allows such souls to enjoy spiritual consolation, a foretaste of the happiness of Heaven. Nevertheless, since this world is not our true home, but a place of trial where we must demonstrate our obedience to God’s commandments, our peace of soul is often clouded by scruples, anxiety and fear.

“St. Francis in Ecstasy”, Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

God Sends Us Suffering and Temptation to Exercise Our Virtues

God’s main purpose in allowing us to be tempted is to test our love and fidelity to Him. Any pilot can safely fly an aircraft in calm weather, but only a skilled pilot can master violent storms and react to emergencies. Every soldier, even the most cowardly, can pretend to be brave when he is not threatened, but true courage is proven on the battlefield. Just as the abilities of an athlete are displayed during the game, so also the inner strength and virtues of the soul are revealed by our response to suffer­ing and temptation.

We find many examples throughout Holy Scripture teaching us why God permits suffering and temptation. God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his dearly beloved son. The purpose of this supreme test was to test Abraham’s love and fidelity. Tobias was blind. Why did God permit this innocent man to endure blindness? The angel Raphael told him that because he was acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should try him (Tobias 12). Eventually St. Raphael cured him of his blindness. The severe trials suffered by Job served to prove his heroic patience and have inspired count­less souls throughout the ages. In time, his tragic misfortunes were remedied and he was abundantly rewarded by God for his fidelity and long-suffering patience.

Although the devil’s temptations are troublesome and difficult to resist, and suf­fering tests our patience and endurance, these trials demonstrate the measure of our love for God. We must never lose heart, but courageously battle the devil’s attacks, trusting in God’s love and assistance. In this way we will draw much spiritual good from them.

Virtues are developed in our soul when we frequently perform good actions over a period of time. This repetition helps us fulfill God’s will more easily and readily. In much the same way that trees which are frequently exposed to violent winds and storms strike the deepest roots, so also, con­sistent resistance to the devil’s temptations strengthens and perfects our souls to form a bedrock foundation of virtue.

Temptation offers us the opportunity to perform repeated acts of virtue. How can a person advance in the virtue of patience unless he is faced with numerous frustra­tions and contradictions of his will? Or, how can “one who is never provoked perform acts of meekness and gentleness, or exercise chastity if never tempted to the opposite vice, or make acts of humility in the absence of humiliations? The same holds… [true] of every other virtue… We cannot exercise virtue, at least cannot often exercise it, without the onslaught of temptation” (J. B. Scaramelli, S.J., Guide to the Spiritual Life, vol. 2, p. 299).

God Gives Us His Grace to Help Us Triumph Over Temptation

To the repeated prayers of St. Paul for deliverance from severe temptation, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (II Cor. 12:9). Instead of removing this tempta­tion, God strengthened his soul with grace to enable him to withstand those violent assaults and to gain the victory over the evil spirits. “Cassian concludes from this, that our most loving Savior has done us a greater favor in exposing us to the conflict with temptations than if He had wholly freed us from them, because if amid these combats we but remain steadfast in well-doing, we shall attain to an eminent and sublime degree of virtue, according to those words which God spoke to St. Paul: Virtue is made perfect in infirmity” (ibid. pp. 300-301).

“Apostle Paul”, Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pride and presumption are the root causes of most serious falls from grace, beginning with Lucifer and continuing until the end of time. Spiritual pride causes souls to have an inflated opinion of their own merits and strength. Such persons are blinded by presumption, erroneously believing that they have attained such a degree of holiness that they are immune from temptation and need not be afraid of anything. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall,” warned St. Paul (I Cor. 10: 12).

Humility, on the other hand, is one of the foundations of the spiritual life. When souls struggle under the burden of temptation, experiencing their own frailty and weak­ness, they humbly and sincerely cry to God for help. By this means virtue is developed and strengthened. This calm acknowledg­ment of their faults and miseries, together with an absolute trust in God’s love, good­ness and power, pleases God immensely and secures incomparable blessings.

St. James clearly stated, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown which God has promised to those who love Him” (1: 12). Even if our temptations may be frequent, troublesome, persistent and even violent, they cannot force us to sin and will not harm us if we refuse consent. God will profusely reward us for our consistent and courageous resistance to them.

Temptations and Crosses Come with God’s Care and Protection

We must not consider ourselves as for­saken by God if our soul is subjected to continual, horrible temptations or heavy crosses, nor envy those who are exempt from such suffering. Even in the midst of such dreadful conflicts and pain, we will experience God’s care and protection. Our fidelity to God under such pressure will tremendously increase our future reward.

St. John Chrysostom declares, “No one should consider that he is overlooked or forsaken by God, on beholding himself exposed to the onslaughts of violent temp­tations; for this is the surest token he can have that God takes special care of him” (Homil. 33 in Gen.).

It is impossible to be totally free from temptation during life. For this reason, we do not petition God in the Our Father for freedom from temptation, but for the strength and grace to successfully overcome it. Although we are faced with a lifelong conflict against the world, the flesh and the devil, we can rely on God’s continual assis­tance and support. If we cooperate with His grace and fight bravely, we will be victorious and enjoy an everlasting reward.

–Taken from the Reign of Mary Quarterly Magazine, Issue 148

Originally titled “Fighting the Good Fight” for Fr. Dominic Radecki’s column for Confraternity members:

Servus Mariae

“Servus Mariae Nunquam Peribit”

“Servus Mariae” translates as “the servant of Mary” or “the slave of Mary.” This title reflects the spirituality of the Con­gregation of Mary Immaculate Queen, with whom the Con­fraternity members are affiliated. That spirit is one of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, as taught by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. The column title also reflects the motto of CMRI: Servus Mariae nunquam peribit (“The servant of Mary will never perish”).

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