I HAD a friend who loved to tell me, ''It's not a sin to be tempted; it's a sin to give in to it.'' I remembered that recently when I had occasion to reread Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth. Three witches who appear in the opening act set out to tempt Macbeth, a military general, with images of his future glory as a king. Macbeth takes their ''bait'' and begins his infamous downward spiral into darkness and doom.
Those witches-arguably representatives of externalized thoughts-could be seen as one more incarnation of evil temptation. This temptation is found in the Bible, first as the talking snake in the allegory of Adam and Eve. It continues on as the devil, or Satan as he is called in the Bible.
Jesus Christ was once tempted with the promise of a kingdom-in this case, power over the whole world-if he would agree to worship (believe in or validate) Satan. Jesus rejected this offer immediately, in the words of St. Matthew: ''Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'' The account continues, ''Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him'' (4:10, 11).
We all face temptation. And whether the thought comes to cheat, to lie, or to do some other wrong, the voice of wrongdoing must obviously be silenced, just as Jesus silenced it.
God teaches how we all can face down the blandishments of temptation. God is wholly good, is infinite Love, and therefore cannot tempt us, His own children, to try to improve our lot by sinning. We are actually spiritual, because we are made in the image of God, who is divine Spirit.
Listening for messages-thoughts from God-is a way of turning from temptation. And understanding that God's creation must be as complete and perfect and satisfied as He is, we can find that we are not subject to temptation, never incomplete, dissatisfied, or lacking. It is only in believing, incorrectly, that one could give in to the ultimate temptation: that there can be a creator other than God.
These are ideas revealed through Christian Science. Discovered by Mary Baker Eddy and based on the teachings of Jesus, this Science shows that resisting and overcoming temptation are vital in the practice of Christian healing. One of Mrs. Eddy's books, Miscellaneous Writings, says, ''When tempted to sin, we should know that evil proceedeth not from God, good, but is a false belief of the personal senses; and if we deny the claims of these senses and recognize man as governed by God, Spirit, not by material laws, the temptation will disappear'' (p. 198).
Christian Science presents Mind as a synonym for God. You reflect the eternal, omniscient source of all intelligence that is divine Mind. Your real consciousness is good, because it is purely from God. Any other intelligence is based, not on the Mind that is God, but on fragmentation, the concept of many minds in perpetual conflict. Isn't that the basis for all selfishness?
Macbeth thought to improve his position through evil deeds-he allowed himself, essentially, to become bewitched. But whether a temptation to do something wrong comes from the pressure of peers or from any other evil, God is greater. Through God, you can lift your thought to behold the goodness of creation. You can strengthen your resolve to be and know only good. This requires the choice, however, to love God and all that He has made.
The ability to resist temptation is grounded in the knowledge that man is spiritual. Having resisted temptation on that basis, you can confidently expect it to leave you. And ultimately, the destruction of all evil is in God's hands.
For he is our God; and we are
the people of his pasture, and
the sheep of his hand. To-day
if ye will hear his voice,
harden not your heart,
as in the provocation, and
as in the day of temptation
in the wilderness.
Psalms 95:7, 8