“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7).
Jesus suffered temptations. And he was perfect. That means that it is not wrong to experience unrighteous inclinations.
That realization preserved my sanity as an anxious teenager, when I feared that temptations and intrusive thoughts made me bad. When I worried that I might be gay and I feared that the very experience of a whiff of attraction to someone of the same sex might make me despicable, the realization that Jesus was tempted in all things (Hebrews 4:15) was a huge relief. (Back then, the homosexual taboo was so universal and visceral that it evoked hateful feelings we seldom questioned. That's the trouble with taboos. Some day, hopefully soon, I'm going to write a post about that).
What does it mean to me now?
I'm challenged in my understanding of temptation and the Fall. I've come to the conclusion that the Fall is the source of our base inclinations. Clearly, though, we could be tempted before the Fall, as Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden of Eden. And before that, during the War in Heaven, when Lucifer led away a third of our Father's children. The capacity to be tempted, then, is not a consequence of the Fall. Rather, it seems intrinsic to agency.
So now I wonder, what exactly is temptation? Webster's 1828 defines it as "enticement to evil by arguments, by flattery, or by the offer of some real or apparent good;" and also "solicitation of the passions; enticements to evil proceeding from the prospect of pleasure or advantage." It seems like temptation is amplified by the Fall with its effect on the passions, leading us to become by nature "carnal, sensual and devilish" (Alma 42:10).
That phrase is so familiar that it's easy to pass over with only a vague idea of what it means. So, I'm going to try to break it down. Carnal comes from the latin "caro" or "carn" meaning flesh. So carnal means "of the flesh." It means being preoccupied with the body, including, I would propose, its vulnerability to harm. If I cringe from discomfort and reject spiritual promptings because I fear physical suffering, that's carnal. So is the pursuit of physical pleasures that cause spiritual harm.
Closely related is sensual, meaning preoccupied with the indulgence of the physical senses as opposed to the expansion of the spirit.
I think those two are easy to see as the common tendency that needs to be overcome in all of us. But devilish? Did mankind really all become devilish? What does that mean?
Maybe it refers to the cause of Lucifer's fall: pride. His desire to be pre-eminent, to be honoured above our Father, motivated him to value his own intellect over the loving omniscience of God and to come out in rebellion against the Father's plan. And pride is a pretty universal human trait. So, in context, I think maybe that's what devilish means.
So what about Jesus and the temptations he experienced? We often discuss his dual nature as the Son of God and the son of mortal Mary in how it gave him both power over death and the capacity to die. What was the effect of that duality on his experience of carnality, sensuality and pride?
It seems that if he was tempted in all things, as we are, he would have had to experience all three. But it also seems that, in order to never succumb, he must have had the capacity to never be overwhelmed by them. Was it like his experience with regard to death, that just as he had to choose to die by laying down his life (John 10:18), so he had to choose to experience the full pull of carnality, sensuality and pride, and to suffer temptation in that state?
The thought strikes me with the immensity of his love, to willingly enter into so terrifying a crucible and then to stay in it, enduring agonies beyond what would render us senseless, beyond even what would kill us. Because it seems to me that the "pain of body, hunger, thirst and fatigue" are secondary to the temptations. It was not the physical pain that squeezed blood from every pore. No, it was the "anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people" that caused that exquisitely painful process.
And what that means to me is that Jesus Christ comprehends better than I begin to glimpse a guess at what it really means to be tempted. He knows how it feels to have a raging tempest in the veins. He felt it past the point at which we would lose consciousness. And he never broke.
I want to fall to my knees before a love so great. And to run to him in my deepest distresses and vulnerability. Because he knows, he holds, he is safety and strength.