Discovering inner health and transformation
Who hasn’t at one time or another felt cross with him or herself for acting on some urge of the moment, giving in to temptation to do something which was enjoyed at the time but which later causes regret?
Perhaps it was overeating and now you are fearful of looking fat and becoming unhealthy: or maybe it was spending money you could not afford on a whim buying something not really needed and now you are concerned about paying off the credit card: or perhaps it was verbally lashing out at someone who angered you at the time and now you fear losing the benefits of the relationship.
Actions like these may bother you but the chances are you will be quick to forget all about such things. and any sense of embarrassment and even guilt will be short lived. Many people are probably like this. It is not that they are bad or stupid. It is simply that they saw they had been tempted to behave against their own interests. They do not consider that succumbing to the impulse of the moment would lead to any long-term serious consequences.
And perhaps they are right. So what is so bad about giving way to temptation? Why should anyone feel guilty about going against the social rules that are expected to be followed?
Temptation and social conformity
You might be tempted to harm the person who bothers you, but a society in which everyone gave in to the temptation to hurt those who made them angry, would quickly devolve into chaos. Therefore social roles are developed.
Psychologists have tested how people behave with and without being watched. It is clear that when they think they can get away with it, many will succumb to temptation to pinch things they fancy (for example from hotels), exaggerate their expenses claims, and even fabricate the contents of their CV’s.
Some people thus only follow rules because it seems to be in their interests to do so. If they believe other people are not following the rules or that other people won’t know if they break them, then they are also likely to break rules. Their conscience is one of social conformity rather than high principle.
Temptation and genuine conscience
Many spiritual writers have written that human problems can arise when one lacks a firm foundation of values. Without ethical principles you may be tempted to live a life in which “anything goes,” or be unable to discern what is right and wrong in any given situation.
A well-known moral principle is the golden rule that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself — that is with patience, tolerance, trust, and respect. This is not just for the sake of getting back what you give but rather as a spiritual principle in itself. Another example is that of conserving nature and protecting it from unsustainable exploitation not just as a way of protecting our resources but also as a way of recognising something which is valued for itself.
Let us return to the examples given at the beginning about eating, spending money and lashing out. The impulse to eat too much tests one’s inner contentment with the inflow of the spirit rather than attachment to bodily pleasure.
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Jesus Christ)
Likewise attractive advertising of luxury goods also tests a commitment to prioritising money for what is useful: and being provoked to anger tests the ethic of forgiveness.
Consequences of spiritual temptation
A moral consciousness gives you the option of deliberately doing wrong. Having the power of rational and ethical discrimination gives you the responsibility to make the right choices.
Who doesn’t give in to temptation sometimes? Doing so can leave you feeling dissatisfied, guilty or empty because it might be suggested that you have distanced yourself a little from the spirit of goodness that had been inspiring and uplifting your life. I suspect even people of faith who have had a deep trust in their Lord, can find themselves losing confidence when circumstances are tough, becoming anxious about the future or the past, and being tempted with negative attitudes or selfish thoughts. Their faith is indeed being tested.
One idea of religion I like is that of a forgiving God who is always willing to give us another chance.
Victory in temptation
My view of spiritual growth is that it is a gradual process and that for a long time perhaps to a lessening extent your worldly orientated and self-centred habits of thought still attract you. See here for what John Odhner has written about what the new Testament describes as a conflict between the “old man” and the “new man.” The spiritual teaching is that the more you turn away from what in your heart you know is wrong, then the more you will be transformed into a better character.
“Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.” (William Butler Yeats)
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
Posted on6th November 2013