Ash Wednesday – 1983

Temptation is a word used about once a week across Australia.

It is used by the 3 million Christians when they recite the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Apart from that, I doubt whether it is used much at all.

Temptation is a word that only means something alongside other words. Words like discipline, morality or freedom. For without discipline, temptation need not exist; nothing need be defined. Without morality, temptation is simply an option we can choose.

The season of Lent is with us. It began last Wednesday on a day known as Ash Wednesday. And what a cruel irony is attached to that day.

Since the 7th Century, ashes were placed on believers to symbolize repentance, penance and mourning over sins.

In the current era though, Ash Wednesday (circa. 1983) has been thrust upon us with all the force of new grief itself. Lives lost, property destroyed, people homeless, bewildered and dismayed – without the freedom of escape.

Whenever things like this happen, you and I probably have the same kind of thoughts. Why has God created a world in which tragedy and fulfillment are both possibilities? And why are we not tempted to turn away from the creator of such a world?

The danger is that we over spiritualize the word temptation into unreality, and we do not ask what Ash Wednesday does to people’s faith?

How can those who have lost their homes, their possessions, and even their loved ones ever find life the same again?

How can life be other than prolonged mourning for the many families without loved ones and without roofs over their heads? Urban refugees jolted from the comfortable air-conditioned 1980s into powerlessness before the elements.

The greatest temptation is always the one to unbelief. And in bitter times it seems an option to a wavering faith. And it is attractive to be able to drop your commitment when something challenges it.

Today it is easier to stand for nothing than something in the spiritual and ash-strewn wilderness of our state.

But the easy way is seldom the best way.

A young person I was with recently told me she was throwing in her Psychology Education Course at teacher’s college.

‘Is there another course you would rather do? Are the job prospects not good?’ I asked.

‘No,’ she replied, ‘it’s too hard. It takes too much work and too much time. I want something easier so I am going to try to get a job, any job.’

This kind of, ‘Let’s turn the stones into bread lest we get hungry.  Man does live by bread along,’ attitude are the empty goals of existence for many, and these are the very things that Ash Wednesday’s destroy.

Have we not been reminded of the utter futility of centering our hopes on the things of this world?

What really matters is people and the God who made them.

What good does it do if we are given all the goods and authority of this world and the security that goes with them if we are totally insecure about the place of God in our life and the values that matter?

People are what really matter, especially in the crises of death, sickness, and losses in the Ash Wednesday’s of life.

As the great anti-Hitler Christian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote from his prison cell, ‘through every event, however untoward, there is always a way through to God.’

And in many such events God has his own way of coming through to us. The ‘how’ is always between the sufferer and the Lord.

No doubt further tragedies will stalk our country and if you ask me why, in the widest sense of the word, I have no new answers.

In the narrowest sense of the word there are feasible answers such as; there are fires because there was an arsonist and heat and so on. But if you ask me why God has made an order in which the massive forces of nature are in disharmony with man’s life I can only observe that we see fires, earthquakes and droughts that way because they are not typical of the harmony we are more used to from day to day.

Such events are exceptional.

And if you ask me why God has made man in such a way that he might be an arsonist, I can only answer that God could not give us freedom and at the same time protect us from the results of its use. Or abuse.

If there was another way He could have created us that avoided such adversities, yet still gave us the power to choose He would have done it.

As it is we have this frail and unpredictable world around us, but we have the power of God to overcome it.

By George Robert Iles