“Be careful, little eyes…”

Nobody’s temptation-proof. But not everyone’s tempted by the same stuff.

Some years ago when I finally got round to reading the unabridged edition of The Stand (which, I remind you, is my favorite End Times novel, and not just ’cause it’s way better written than those stupid, stupid Left Behind novels), I casually mentioned to a fellow Christian (let’s call her Asha) I was doing so.

Wrong Christian to mention such things to. Asha was horrified. I think she was afraid I’d lose my salvation over it. You think I’m being facetious, but some Christians actually do believe there are such things as mortal, unpardonable sins. To Asha, Stephen King novels are apparently one of ’em.

Y’see, King is known as a horror writer. So he’ll write about evil spirits, vampires, werewolves, devilish magic creatures, and so forth. He’ll also write about non-supernatural things, like sex and violence. He’ll use the F-word, and take the Lord’s name in vain. Pagan stuff like that.

Therefore Asha insisted I was a bad Christian for exposing myself, even opening myself, to such evil influences. Why, the indwelling Holy Spirit might be so offended he’d flee my body, and devils would rush in, and I’d wind up committing all sorts of sinful atrocities. Blah blah blah, the usual clichés from people who don’t understand how temptation works.

If you’re human, you get tempted. We all do. You know how temptation works. But if you forgot, I’ll remind you.

Let’s say Stephen King wrote a novel where the main character liked to huff paint. Now, if we read the novel, we might identify with this guy in many ways: He’s good to his kids, he loves barbecue, he likes monster trucks, he likes to watch police procedurals. We might even think, “Wow, he’s a lot like me.” But that paint-huffing thing: That’s just nuts. We’d never do that. Never want to; never think to. Aren’t tempted in that direction in any way. Right?

Of course I assume you’re a typical sane human being. Maybe you are that susceptible to suggestion. And if that’s the case, why don’t you sign on to PayPal, and send $500 to my email address? Thanks a bunch.

Temptation, as seen in real live humans.

While those easily-influenced folks are off helping me afford a new laptop, the rest of you realize none of this is how temptation works.

It’s not like humans have zero resistance to things which sound painful, dangerous, stupid, offensive, taboo, distasteful, humiliating, boring, socially unacceptable, or even just inconsistent with our character. We do have a self-preservation instinct, after all. And if we were raised properly, or have been following the Holy Spirit for a while, we’ll have a well-trained conscience. Won’t even be a struggle. It’s more of a struggle to not push it away.

Fr’instance: I don’t drink. Back when I was a kid, after watching how alcohol affected many of my family members, I decided to never start. And haven’t. Not even curious. If someone puts a beer, wine, or whiskey in front of me, I’ll just ignore it. Won’t go insane with desire, won’t start sweating uncontrollably, won’t get the shakes, won’t even think about the glass. Bluntly, it may as well be a piss jar.

When I see someone who’s drunk (i.e. at family reunions), I never think, “Other than puking off the deck, he really looks like he’s having a lot of fun. I must be missing out. Y’know, maybe I should reconsider my position on alcohol, and have a few beers myself.” Doesn’t even occur to me. Just like it wouldn’t occur to you to start huffing paint, just because some nimrod in a book does it. Unless you’ve had previous experience with that practice, it’s never gonna trigger anything in you.

For me, it’s the same with other stuff. Even stuff I have practiced. I’m not gonna read profanity and start swearing like that. Not gonna read about violence and want to try similar violent behaviors. Not gonna read about sex and want sex. Not gonna read about magic and want to dabble in the occult.

In the case of actual temptation, the book would poke at an existing desire. Say I did have a drinking problem, and the book reminded me how much fun the first three drinks are. (You know, right before everything goes to crap.) Then I should never read such books. I’d warn alcoholic friends away from such books: “It’s gonna tempt you. Best to stay away.”

But among many a phobic Christian, there’s this crazy irrational fear EVERYTHING will tempt. They honestly believe the conscience is that fragile. And in more extreme cases, they believe there are demons who follow those books around, looking for an opportunity to tempt anyone who reads them. I’m not kidding. There’s like a sex demon there to tempt people with the sex scenes, a profanity demon there to tempt people into swearing like the characters do, a paint-huffing demon to tempt you into huffing paint… I’m still not kidding; they really do believe in paint-huffing demons. Seems demons specialize like crazy.

Even so, the things which trigger us don’t necessarily come from reading about them. I can watch a movie with people swearing up a storm, and it doesn’t tempt me to use profanity at all. What does tempt me are the things I find irritatingly awful. Like John Eldredge books. As far as I recall, that book hadn’t a single foul word in it… but its godless advice sure made me wanna say profane things.

Immaturity.

Like I said, I’m not gonna mimic the stuff I read. Now, that wasn’t always the case. I had to learn better. And I did. But when I was a little kid, it was monkey see, monkey do.

When I was 8, my parents let me read Jaws. That’s the Peter Benchley novel which the Stephen Spielberg movie is based upon. (And just for fun, here’s the movie re-enacted with bunnies.) The movie was rated PG, and we came across the book at a yard sale or flea market or something; I asked if I could get it, and Mom said okay.

Well, the book sure wasn’t rated PG at all. I’m not talking about the descriptions of the shark eating anyone. There’s a whole lot of adult language. Profanities and sex talk. There’s a subplot where oceanographer Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfus in the movie) commits adultery with Chief Brody’s wife, and before they head off to panky the hanky, they plot their dalliance in graphic detail. The old fisherman Quint (played by Robert Shaw) of course swore like a sailor. I learned lots of interesting profanities from him.

“You know Jaws?” I told my schoolfriends on the playground later that week. “I just read the book. They cussed a lot in it.”

So we invented this playground game, which we called “Shark.” (Bears no resemblance whatsoever to “Shark in the Water.”) There was a play structure at my grade school which had a pair of tandem slides. We pretended the structure was the deck of the Orca, and after the shark took a bite out of the boat, Quint would slide down into the hungry shark’s waiting mouth, screaming and swearing all the way. We took turns playing Quint.

To keep this story somewhat clean, I’m gonna replace all the naughty words with the largely inoffensive substitute “Smurf.” Hey, it works for the Smurfs cartoons.

Quint.Shark! I’m getting eaten by a mothersmurfing shark! Help me! The smurfer’s eating me! Oh, smurf!”
Brody and Hooper. “Stop eating him, you smurfer!”

And so on. Yep, those who were waiting their turn would play Brody and Hooper. (I know; Hooper was in the water in the movie at the time; we didn’t care.) We’d try, futilely and filthily, to rescue Quint from his rapidly approaching death. But Quint would always be eaten… after which he’d reappear on “deck,” whole, playing one of the other guys until it was his turn again. None of us ever bothered to kill the shark, as in the movie. We just swore at it.

What about other kids who wanted to use the slide? We’d let ’em pass. Then go back to playing “Shark.”

Thus went the whole recess. Lots of profanity. Smurf-a-rama. Pretty much exclusively the F-word. I knew a few other profanities, thanks to a combination of Dad and Jaws. But for kids, no other word’s as much fun.

Now you’d think a kid screaming “I’m being eaten!” plus a lot of dirty words, would attract the attention of the yard duties. Maybe a reprimand. Maybe detention. Not even close. The only concern any of the duties showed was when one of us climbed under the lip of the slide, as part of being “eaten.” She was worried lest someone slide onto his head. The cursing wasn’t an issue.

Shall we blame Jaws for my misbehavior? No; it’s like blaming the devil for my refusal to resist temptation. The book never made me swear my head off. I already had a foul mouth on me. If I were one of those kids who never ever swore—who even believed “Shut up” was a bad word—I might’ve still invented “Shark,” though a cleaner version: “Help me, I’m a goner!” Just as much shouting, but no F-bombs. The problem is neither with the book, nor my inattentive parents. It’s the little sinner who found it fun to shout filthy things on the playground. It’s all me.

I didn’t care to resist the temptation. I do now. I can read profane words without caring to repeat them. I only struggle with swearing when I’m angry, and usually all that comes out of me are non-profane euphemisms. I can control myself. And do.

Loads of people don’t. And won’t. And they shouldn’t expose themselves to such stuff. Their consciences are untrained, kinda like mine was at that age. We as Christians are doing ’em a favor by warning them away from such things. That’s why I have no trouble with movie ratings, TV ratings, video game ratings, and the like: If your kids aren’t yet mature, keep ’em away.

Where it gets ridiculous is when they are mature… yet you’re still keeping ’em away.

Prolonged immaturity.

Y’see, we live in a sinful world. One we need to minister to. One where, if we are ministering to it, we’re gonna stumble across all the sorts of things we shield little kids from. Naughty words, violence, sex, alcohol, drugs, and way worse.

Not just in the places we expect it, like in pagan households and hangouts. Plenty of Christians are harboring this stuff too. Sometimes they don’t know any better; sometimes they totally do, but they’re hypocrites. It happens. A lot.

And I’ve watched supposedly-mature Christians stumble into this stuff… and totally fall apart. It shocks and offends ’em so much, they forget to be gracious, forgiving, patient, and kind. Sometimes they seize up: They can’t handle the idea, so they shut down. They leave it to others who can handle it… and get out of there as fast as they can. They simply can’t minister there. They aren’t mentally equipped. Certainly not spiritually equipped.

In half the cases where I’ve seen Christians balk like this, it’s because this used to be their lifestyle. They weren’t raised Christian, y’see. They used to do such things. Once they become Christian, they got away from it—and good for them. They used drugs often; now they don’t. Used to be promiscuous; now they’re not. Problem is, they never properly dealt with their old temptations. They simply got far, far away from them—and once exposed to them again, flinch in terror, lest they get sucked back in.

The other half are people who were raised Christian. But unlike me, they were heavily sheltered. Their parents kept them in a nice protective bubble, apart from everything icky in the real world. They were never taught to handle it. So they can’t. It terrifies them.

Fear’s not the problem. It’s the symptom. The problem is they never learned how to resist sin, or never built up any resistance to sin, and worry they can’t. Doesn’t help when we have Christians like Asha, who insist they definitely can’t, ’cause the demons are ever waiting to pounce—so don’t just resist temptation, but flee from it. Thanks to their mindset, a lot of legalist churches have erected all sorts of rules to protect not just their children, but fully-grown adults who should be mature enough to resist temptation without a pile of extra rules. But since these churches never bother to teach how to resist temptation, not many of ’em can resist. As is proven by scandal after scandal, as hypocrite after hypocrite is discovered in their leadership.

So what’s the solution? Absolute “freedom in Christ,” where they’re permitted to sin their brains out because the Old Testament no longer counts? Absolutely not. Ro 6.1-2 The solution is fruit of the Spirit. Self-control. For those who can’t control themselves yet, patience and guidance. For those who can control themselves, honesty and accountability, lest we slip up. And grace all around, ’cause we will slip up. 1Jn 2.1 But fear? That just means we’re neither growing fruit, nor in grace.