“If you are constantly asked to prove your love for someone it’s because you don’t have theirs.” ~ Unknown
But the scripture also says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
The devil tempts Jesus a second time by using a scripture (Ps 91:11-12) to urge him to jump off a cliff to prove that God cares about him:
“Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, the Holy City, set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, ‘If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down, for the scripture says, ‘God will give orders to his angels about you; they will hold you up with their hands, so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’” (Matthew 4:5-6).
As with the first temptation, Jesus fights back using scripture as his defense. The scripture Jesus quotes refers to an incident in Exodus when the Hebrews are angry with God because they don’t have enough water. Exodus 17:7 says, “the Israelites complained and put the Lord to the test when they asked, “Is the Lord with us or not?”
What does it mean to put the Lord to the test? I think this is when we say to God, “If you really love me you will do what I want you to do and save me from all harm. If you do what I ask then I will believe that you love me.” In secular terms, it might be called “tempting fate.”
One of the central themes throughout the entire Bible is that it is good to have faith in God and we can trust him to provide for our needs. But where does one draw the line between faith and foolishness? When is risky behavior appropriate? When does it become folly? I thought about this for a while and came up with some of the questions I ask myself when I’m considering doing something that is potentially dangerous.
First, what is the potential for harm to myself or others? I remember one time when I went to a healing service and the woman in charge stated that she God was going to restore a man’s finger that had been chopped off. She assembled a group of people and they prayed for that finger to grow back, all the time declaring that God was going to restore the finger. Well, the finger didn’t grow back. Was she putting the Lord to the test by asking him to perform a miracle? Maybe. Was there any harm in it? The man was very anxious to have his finger prayed for because he had nothing to lose. He wasn’t upset when it didn’t grow back. He said it was worth a try. No harm done. Compare this to the example in this scripture where the devil dares Jesus to take a dive off a cliff. If God doesn’t intervene, Jesus will die. His ministry will be over before it even begins. There was a lot of potential for harm in this proposition. So, it’s OK to put God to the test to see if he will heal someone. Faith is about believing in the best possible outcome. It’s OK to believe that God wants excellent things to happen, even if it goes against common sense or conventional wisdom. But it’s not OK to jump off a cliff just to see if he will save you. It’s an unnecessary risk.
Next, why am I contemplating this risky behavior? Am I asking for a miracle because I have been irresponsible and I expect God to bail me out? For example, I would say that expecting God to protect you when you are driving drunk would be a good example of putting God to the test. Am I thrill-seeking like people who do death-defying things like climbing Mt Everest or going back country skiing? Am I doing this thing for fame and money, like Evel Knievel? Am I doing it to impress others and increase my sense of self-importance? Or am I risking my health and safety because I believe God has called me to a particular task? Maybe I’m called to be a tornado chaser or a police officer or a teacher in a violent inner city neighborhood. If it’s a call from God I must do it, even if it’s dangerous work. If not, then I need to walk away from the urge just like Jesus walked away from that cliff.
Third, does this action have the potential for making the world a better place? Does my risky behavior have the potential to save someone’s life? Will it encourage others? Will it affirm the power of good in the world? We are all grateful when people stand up for what is right despite the risks to their personal safety – people like Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and others. Today we look up to little Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban but continued to campaign for the right to education. She has become a global advocate for human rights, women’s rights and the right to education. Would it have benefitted mankind if Jesus jumped off that cliff? Of course not.
Finally, I think there is also another principle here that goes beyond faith vs. folly. It’s about whether or not we should ever set up tests to make people prove their love for us. When you set up a test another person’s love for you, you are putting your relationship with that person in jeopardy. Everyone needs to be free to show their love in their own way. If I bully or coerce someone into doing something for me, it’s no longer an act of love. It’s an act of obedience. I have successfully dominated and enslaved the other person.
So the devil tempts Jesus to try to enslave God and make him obey. How crazy is that! So I must never let the devil convince me that ”if God really loved me he would [whatever it is I want at the moment]”. God loves me; God loves everyone. I need to maintain my faith in this even when things aren’t going my way. Instead of asking God to perform for me, I should be watching him work in the world with a heart filled with awe and gratitude. I should keep an eye out for the good all around me. That’s where God’s love is being revealed.
Yes, we all die sooner or later. It’s part of God’s plan. But we don’t want to die prematurely or frivolously. Don’t die early for no good reason. Life is a precious gift and we should use it wisely.
What does this scripture say to you?