The Lordís Temptations
by Rev. Morley D. Rich
The story in Genesis of Jacob's wrestling with the angel inwardly describes the temptation-combats of the man who is regenerating. But it also describes the temptations through which the Lord passed while He was in the world; and the changing of Jacob's name to Israel describes most interiorly how the Lord's true Human - that which He put on in the world from the Father, His soul - was made one with the Divine from which it came, one with the Father; and is then called the Divine Human.
In order to understand this most arcane subject at all, we must recall to our minds the constitution of man and the characteristics of human temptation. For these things parallel and illuminate the Lord's Human and its temptations.
Man is a mind, and, as it is said, the mind is the man. This is the same as saying that every man is a spirit as to his interiors. Now the mind which is the man is, to express it in the most simple words, composed of two parts or levels - an outer and an inner mind. The outer or lower part of a man's mind is that which is made up of his everyday thoughts, ideas, material concerns, and natural feelings or emotions. This is what he inherits, in large part, from his mother. The inner level of his mind - divided into two parts, will and understanding, and called in the Writings the rational mind - is composed of his ruling loves, his inmost affections, and his deepest ideas, beliefs and reflections about God and the things of religion and life. It is this rational level that makes him truly human and immortal, as distinguished from animals. And it is this part of the mind which gives him the ability to examine his actions and speech, and the emotions and thoughts of his lower mind, and to reflect upon and evaluate, restrain and discipline, his natural tendencies to evils of every kind: to perceive the quality of his lower desires and impulses, and the results to which they would lead if they were left unchecked. In large part, this is the plane of the mind which he inherits from his father; its ruling loves and the quality of its understanding before regeneration having the form and characteristics of the paternal heredity.
Now genuine, spiritual temptation is of this rational mind. It is a combat in which the hells through evil spirits, and through man's hereditary loves of self and the world which first rule in the rational mind, attack his beginning loves to the Lord and of the neighbor; and in which the angels defend him by arousing his remaining affections of good and truth, and recalling to him whatever beliefs and spiritual affections he has had in the past. The purpose of the hells is, gradually and unnoticed, to weaken man's love of the Lord; to make him uncertain as to the good of obeying the Lord's will; and to destroy his first belief in and affection for his fellow man which make in him the beginning of love toward the neighbor. If they can succeed in this, then they can lead him into all those escapist indulgences and excesses of the body which are so well known; and from these they can lead him gradually and unobtrusively to the final ultimate - the doing of actual evils against the commandments whereby they may utterly possess and destroy him.
This is stating the process of regeneration backwards; but it can be seen even more clearly if we trace the steps in a forward direction. Thus, if a man is brought up in childhood in an average moral and civil household, learning the difference between right and wrong on the external level by various means, he comes to adulthood with a basic belief in and an affirmative attitude toward obedience to the Lord's commandments, as far as his external behavior is concerned. Usually, therefore, he is able to restrain easily any obvious impulses toward actual theft, murder, adultery, and so on. These present no real problem to him, even though he does not yet see and recognize some of the more subtle forms of dishonesty and other evils, and has not yet seen the necessity of not entertaining them in his mind as well as not actually doing them.
Such being the case with most, the hells have to begin their work and influence on a more interior and hidden level. Thus they seek to intensify the more harmful and destructive affections and emotions of the lower mind; and they implant many forms of thought whereby a man may be tempted to justify himself: not in actual evils, but in the imagination of his thought and in those habits of the body which, while not actual evils, bear within them potentially the seeds of evil. They insinuate the idea that it does not matter what thoughts and imaginative pictures man entertains in his mind, as long as he does not ultimate them in the body. They whisper that he is not doing any harm to others by indulging them. Also, he is led to think that constant excesses in eating and drinking, disorderly habits of life, carelessness in little things, do not really matter, since none of these things are actual evils and in most instances harm only himself, if that; and it is in this superficial view that the hells endeavor to hold him.
For if they can hold him long enough in this state, they can eventually begin to weaken even his basic resistance to actual evil. Thus, with excessive bodily indulgence and the inordinate love of pleasure, the desire for these grows stronger and stronger, and eventually leads to a man's using the methods of dishonesty and insincerity in his relations with others by which alone he can gain the means of gratifying his increasing desire; and, it may be noted, basic dishonesty includes many more forms of insincerity and indirect theft than merely the obvious and actual theft of goods and money. Again, the increasing pleasure which he derives from indulgences and entertainment - the delighting of the senses: this, if unchecked, inevitably leads to actual evil pleasures of the body, or to a real struggle with them.
But let us suppose the best. Let us suppose that, as with millions of simple good people, the man wins through this stage of his progression. He begins slowly to realize certain basic truths of life; sees how his tendencies to indulgences and bad habits of all kinds may lead him to worse things; and how, even without that, they weaken his moral fiber and damage and limit his usefulness to others by clouding his mind, weakening his body, and sometimes even damaging his brain, and tend also to deprive him of many a useful, beneficial and highly enjoyable association with worthwhile people and friends. And with this realization, or rather, a series of such realizations, he slowly begins to set his own household, his own mental and bodily life, into something of external order and health.
None of these preliminary testings and trials are really spiritual temptations, and they do not as yet serve as the ultimate bases of such temptations. But after a man has come into such an external order on these two levels of life the hells can no longer exercise an effective influence on these levels. So they have to go further into the essence of man's being; and this is where spiritual temptation really begins - after the reformation of man's external.
For then the hells begin to attack that first love to the Lord and toward the neighbor which man has acquired from the Lord by his resistance to external evil, and by his conquest of those tendencies to lesser things which may lead to external evils, as well as by his first attempts to cast out of his mind even the desires for and the imaginations of evil. All spiritual temptation, we are taught, is essentially an attack by the hells on man's ruling love. So they try to weaken his love to the Lord and his first affection of charity toward the neighbor: toward the Word, the human race, the church, his country, his parents and his family. For if they can do this, then they can gradually separate him from all the root-affections of his childhood and youth which would help him, and which would reinforce his own resolution; and then he is cast adrift, rudderless and alone, an easy prey to the wicked winds of the world, which first soothe him beguilingly and afterwards would destroy him with hurricanes and floods of evil desires and actions.
That is why, in temptations, every man finds that his interest in the Word cools; his affection for the uses and functions of the church fades; his trust of all his fellow men diminishes; and his love for his parents and family becomes very dim. For the truths of the Word have become uncomfortable, exposing his evils as they do. The church, with its implicit calling to higher duty, suffers by contrast with the easy life of slothfulness. His friends so often let him down by their occasional advice and criticism, as well as by their preoccupation with their own concerns, duties and functions. Most, if not all, of his fellow men appear to be utterly selfish and without thoughts of spiritual things; indifferent, and apathetic toward the vital concerns of their country. His family stands uncomfortably in his mind for all the small virtues, honesty, integrity and order of his childhood.
These are typical of the thoughts and feelings brought to a man by evil spirits in temptation; and with all their power the hells seek by means of them to destroy man's first heavenly loves. The angels defend man, however, by other means which have been noted; and the result is that combat which is called temptation, and which is represented in the Word by Jacob's wrestling all night with the angel. Viewed in another way, this is really a conflict of delights. For the hells strive to intensify the delusive and temporary delights of evil, and to destroy the delights of good or prevent man at least from experiencing them. At the same time, the angels endeavor to bring man such delights as the satisfaction and pleasure of use, of occupation well done; the delight of righteousness exercised in his life; the joy of recreation properly proportioned; the longer and more lasting pleasantness brought by thrift, sobriety and perseverance in the face of difficulties; the indescribable exaltation of attendance at and devotion to the exercises of piety and the uses of the church; the greatly rewarding and solid satisfactions which come through good and lasting relationships with others and the tender remaining joyful affections of childhood.
Such are some of the characteristics of spiritual temptations; and such temptation even goes so far that a man has to wrestle as it were with truth and good themselves. For this is what is involved in Jacob's wrestling with the angel, and also in the words spoken later by the angel: "for as a prince hast thou contended with God and men." "God" here signifies truths - not God Himself, since no man can contend with God - and "men" refers to goods; and the struggle here pictured is that in which devils use even the truths in a man's mind and belief to persuade him to falsity and evil, and man must struggle to perceive and believe the right meaning and application of the truth.
Thus, as an example, a man may have received the truth that all men are born into tendencies to evils of every kind. In temptation, evil spirits exaggerate and give a wrong interpretation of this truth in order to try to convince a man that, since it is so, he need have no love of or trust in his fellow men; that he himself cannot do anything about his hereditary tendencies; and that this logically justifies any indulgence, cruelty, revenge, or minor evils that he may practice. In other words, he must struggle against the twisting of and over-emphasis upon this particular truth so that it may not become an actual falsity. The same thing pertains to good. Thus, if it is right and honorable for a man to kill in defense of his country, what is the good of restraining himself from any physical violence in revenge for wrongs inflicted on him by others in any area of human life? What is the good of his giving up his own desires, if it does not seem that others either want to or have to give up theirs? As with truth, he must wrestle this through in relation to good until he sees the good as a good by itself, and loves it, not on account of others but for its own sake.
All these things were present also in the temptations which the Lord admitted into Himself, but infinitely greater and more numerous; for He fought against all the hells in their order, and His alone was the victory, whereas with man it is not he who gains the victory but the Lord. In addition, and far beyond any mere man's temptations, the Lord also admitted into Himself temptations from the angels themselves, and fought and conquered in them. This is what is represented also by Jacob's wrestling with an angel, for Jacob there represented the Lord. This, that the Lord was tempted by the angels, is a most strange and amazing statement of the Writings; and we cannot fully understand it unless we also understand the Lord's temptation combats and His constitution when in the world.
The Lord's purpose in coming into the world was to subdue the hells and order the heavens, so that men could once more perceive and choose good and truth, if they wanted to, without being so enslaved by the inflowing hells that they had no perception and no choice. Now in order to do this He had to meet the hells on their own ground, as it were; to take on some level of humanity which could admit and receive their influx. This He did by taking on a body and an outer mind from Mary: a maternal human as it is called, having in it all human heredity - natural thoughts, feelings, emotions, and even the loves of self and the world. Such was His merely maternal human. It was not really a part of Himself, but it provided the plane or the battleground for temptation-combats; and as it did so, and with each victory by the Lord, this mere human was put off, was extirpated bit by bit as its use was fulfilled, until at the end nothing was left but the glorified Divine Human itself.
And what was this Human itself? It was the Lord's inner mind, the rational itself; and in the beginning it was the same as a man's regenerated rational mind, for it was composed from the beginning, and thus differently from man's, of the heavenly loves of God and the neighbor. For this is the Human itself; and this is what, as he acquires these loves, makes man truly human.
This Human itself, the regenerated rational, the Lord took on from the Divine itself which was His soul, and which is called the Father. It therefore also had potentially within it that universal Divine love which is the love of the whole human race. But this rational, and its heavenly loves, was as yet only human, though perfectly so. It was limited and finite, just as an angel's love to the Lord, though being purified and perfected, is yet limited and finite. It had to be tried and tested by temptation-combats, and it had to be glorified: enlarged to infinity and made Divine by the Lord's own work and struggle.
All of this could be done only through the travail of many contests, many battles, with the evils of the hells flowing into the plane of His maternal human. As with men, the attack of the hells, though in the Lord's case massive and ferocious beyond human imagining, was upon that incipient love of the whole human race which was the core of His paternal rational, the Human itself. And this attack assumed many forms, even the appearances of the highest goods and truths, as well as the gross and obvious allurements of evil and falsity.
Finally, and inmostly of all, the hells attacked the Lord's love of the human race even through the angels themselves; and although this is never the case with mere man, since he could never understand it, yet some of the temptations suffered by man can give us an inkling of how the Lord was tempted even by and through the heavens. These might be called celestial and Divine temptations to distinguish them from the finite, spiritual temptations of man.
There are many good, true, and even heavenly loves and aspirations which, if unguided and untempered, can be used by the hells to weaken man's love to the Lord and toward the neighbor, and to sabotage his love for the higher degrees of the neighbor such as the Lord's kingdom and the whole human race. Thus a man's love of his own country, if exaggerated, eventually diminishes his love for the Lord's heavenly kingdom, and for the human race, if he does not guide and temper it. His love of civil and political order can be used by the hells to persuade him that civil freedom is undesirable and should be destroyed as a mere permission of Providence, especially if it seems to lead to nothing but disorder, anarchy and the destruction of uses. His love of his marriage partner can be turned to selfish isolation from others. His first fierce love of the truth can be used to disaffect him toward his fellows, if they do not seem to have the same regard for it. His hatred of external injustice and cruelty - a good thing in itself - can be used to arouse in him strong desires for revenge and violence outside of the law, and out of all proportion to the offenses. His desire for order and external righteousness can be used to mislead him into attempting to enforce order in even the smallest things in the private lives of his fellow man by multiplying laws and penalties. He can be led to believe that it would be better to have the oppression and tyranny of past ages than the uncertainties and confusion of our present freedom. Better the Jewish certainties of external conduct and ways of life than the uncertainties, doubts and confusion of the age of the rational mind! His compassion for the externally poor and unfortunate can be used to blind him to spiritual needs, and even to giving aid and comfort unwittingly to the criminal, the slothful, the ne'er-do-well and the careless.
These are very crude and comparatively limited illustrations of the temptations which the Lord suffered at the hands of the angels. But we need to go still further to understand them even in small measure. Such was the disorder in the spiritual world at the time of the Lord's advent that the hells had direct and active access to the heavens by way of the proprium of the angels. They could even arouse and activate the angels' quiescent loves of self and the world which they had had in the natural world. Though these loves had been conquered and laid to rest, as it were, such evils and falsities existed that the hells could re-activate them. This, by the way, was why the angels often suffered acute distress before the Lord's coming into the world; and it is why they experienced such relief and great joy when, by His conquest of the hells, the Lord made such infestation no longer possible.
It was in this way that it was really the hells through the proprium of the angels that tempted the Lord, not the angels themselves. In other words, the hells, defeated on the lower levels, now resorted to the last and highest level from which to attack the Lord's love of the whole human race.
Yet the temptations did not appear in their true colors. For they appeared as even the highest goods and truths. A human parallel could be the way in which well-meaning and sincere persons can sometimes divert a man from his highest duty, from loyalty, or from a hard and strenuous endeavor by telling him that it is too hard; suggesting that other, lesser and easier forms of effort are just as good; and warning him of danger to his bodily and mental health if he persists in straining for some worthy cause or endeavor. Since, basically, the attack was on the Lord's love for the whole human race, the suggestions and insinuations made to Him would be something like this: well-meant suggestions on the part of the angels, prompted by the hells through their proprium, but without their knowledge, that since the whole human race was in such a low condition, it would be better to enforce obedience by spectacular miracles, by severe punishments, and by Divine commands governing every facet of human life until, it would be whispered, the race was in a more orderly state and could be given the freedom and opportunity of inner choice and regeneration.
But the Lord conquered in even these the inmost of all temptations. He showed the angels, indeed, just how they were being used by the hells, and in so doing freed them from all such infestation in the future. In their last resort and last hiding place He uncovered the hells and their work, overcame them and reduced them to order; thereby not only restoring the opportunity for salvation but also opening to men the next step to or degree of mature freedom.
So also His Human love of the race was strengthened and enlarged, and that in which it dwelt, the Human from the Father, became Divine, infinite, and one with the Father; and its love of the whole human race became one with the Divine love, also one with the Father. As a Prince, the Divine Jacob, the Lord, contended with God and men, with the truths and goods of the angelic heaven, and prevailed. Therefore He is also called "Israel" in the Word, for that means, "a prince of God." Therefore was He named in prophecy, "Prince of Peace"; and therefore also was peace on earth announced at His coming into the world.
-New Church Life 1967;87:536-543