“When tempted, no one should say ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.”
– James 1:13-16
I’m sure I never realized as clearly as I do <in prison> what the Bible and Luther mean by “temptation.” Quite suddenly, and for no apparent physical or psychological reason, the peace and composure that were supporting one are jarred… It feels like an invasion from outside, as if by evil powers trying to rob one of what is most vital.
As Bonhoeffer sat in prison, he felt the depth and intensity of sin and temptation more than ever before. Similarly, it was in the wilderness that Christ was approached by the devil. As the distractions of the world are pulled away like a curtain, it reveals a window to the pain and brokenness of the human life. The desert fathers and countless monastics recognized this truth, the nature of the broken world is to draw us into love of many things that cloud how truly alienated we are from God in our sin. We see clearly in James that the desire springs up in my heart and is given space in my actions. Isolation accentuates the loneliness of sin. The season of Lent leads us to this desert land, in which we must grapple with our own sins and decisions.
The isolation of Christ, of Bonhoeffer, and of so many others leads us to a matching truth, however. Humans are meant for fellowship. Whereas we are given a clear vision of our own brokenness in our isolation, we begin to receive a vision of shalom and fulfillment in Christian fellowship. Lent was not just a season of naming temptations, but a season of forgiveness and repentance in preparing for ecclesia. New believers were prepared for baptism and separated brethren were restored from their egregious sins. Lent reminds us that our guilt and sin is not the end of the story, it is a reminder of how much more is offered in forgiveness and reconciliation with God and others.
While Bonhoeffer was brought to the depth of his own sins in prison, he was simultaneously brought to a deep recognition of what life together looks like:
“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”
Our sin is real, but the reality given by forgiveness and reconciliation eclipses that dark night of isolation and sin.