It’s 4:00 AM, and I can’t sleep.
Not normal, at least not for me. I am a good sleeper. I can usually sleep for 10-12 hours a night, and love it. Anything less, and I’m barely functional. Sleep is probably my favourite thing to do.
But this morning, I woke up at 3:00 AM. And after lying awake for an hour, I gave up trying. Being unable to sleep happens to me so rarely, I tend to look on it as a sign from God. So I figured maybe he has something special to tell me, this morning.
My original plan for this post was to skip right ahead to the Sermon on the Mount. There is a whole lot in there to dig into. But I went back to Matthew 4:4, which we looked at in my last sermon (Not By Bread) and started reading ahead, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. And in doing so, I’ve come across this gem.
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”Matthew 4:7
Miracles Happen, but they Can’t Be Forced
On its surface, perhaps not immediately relatable to overeating. I hadn’t seen it that way, before. In this chapter, Satan has just invited Jesus to jump off the roof of the temple – since God had promised he would send angels to save him rather than let him die. Jesus declines, again citing Deuteronomy. I’ve always taken this as a very direct lesson: just because God makes certain promises, doesn’t mean we should go out and do stupid things in an effort to elicit a miracle.
Psalm 91, which Satan references in an effort to tempt Jesus, is full of these promises. Absolutely beautiful, comforting promises.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place – the Most High, who is my refuge – no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your food against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”Psalm 91
But we need to be very careful about how we interpret these sorts of things. Obviously, this isn’t a promise to everyone – there is an explicit caveat at the beginning about who this applies to: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High”. If this can be said of anyone, it would have to be Jesus himself; so there isn’t a problem with applicability, here. And yet, Jesus didn’t have a long life, at least not on earth. God didn’t ‘rescue’ him from the cross – even though Jesus spent a lot of time very fervently asking him to, before facing that horrific death. However, looked at another way, God actually did rescue Jesus from death, by raising him from the dead, never to die again. And, although in one sense what happened to him was evil, what the Romans and the Jews meant to result in his destruction was used by God for his good. God kept his promises. He always keeps his promises, but not always in the way we expect. So don’t go ‘testing’ his power. I can believe he is able to rescue me from death, but if I’m going to jump off a building, I’d better have a really good reason.
Good lesson, to be sure. But it wasn’t till this morning that I saw how it applies to my eating.
What we Eat has Consequences
First, what came to mind was a series of videos I recently watched by Chris Wark (chrisbeatcancer.com). He argues vehemently against the somewhat common Christian view that a fatal diagnosis, such as cancer, should be seen as something sent by God and therefore to be accepted. He makes the case that rather than a death sentence, or a ‘call home’ (in Christianese), such a diagnosis is often meant, instead, to be a wake-up call. That there’s something in our lives that need to be changed – either physical or spiritual – in order for us to heal. And that God actually wants us to make that change, and get better, rather than stoically or joyfully face death.
I’ve made the same sort of case in my introductory post on Food (which I’ve yet to expand on). I’ve spoken to Christians who adamantly believe that no food is bad for us, and that as long as it is eaten with thankfulness, God will use it for our health – granted, they were usually talking about meat, when they found out that I was a vegetarian. I never tried to ‘convert’ anyone to vegetarianism, but if people asked, I would tell them my reasons for eating this way, and this sometimes put them on the defensive – an understandable reaction. As far as I’m concerned, though, theirs is a ridiculous and unsupportable view. I’m sure there are examples of God miraculously keeping people healthy despite being malnourished. But to deliberately ignore what you put in your body – not because you lack the resources, but because you choose to not make it a priority – and simply ‘trust’ God to take care of your health seems, to me, an awful lot like testing him. Maybe not as dramatic as jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, but just as stupid.
Our actions have consequences. What we put into our bodies will affect how those bodies function. If I eat flour and sugar, it will mess with my brain. I will be obese. I will be sick. That’s just logical. I can’t expect God to bless me with health and long life if I refuse to change my behaviour.
But perhaps a more sobering thought is concerning the spiritual aspect of this verse.
God Doesn’t Bless Sin
The passage of scripture that Satan cites seems to be speaking of God’s physical protection. Psalm 91 talks about dangers such as snares, pestilence, arrows, destruction, plagues, lions, and snakes – along with the danger of falling from high places. But since it’s the Bible, it’s always smart to consider the possibility that what is written about in physical terms also has a deeper, spiritual meaning. And this was the second thought that occurred to me as I read this verse, this morning: more important than God’s promises to rescue us from physical harm, are his promises to protect us from spiritual harm. Specifically, the promise to forgive our sins and save us from hell. And Jesus’ words, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” seem just as applicable in this sense. Just because we’re forgiven, doesn’t mean we can go around deliberately, repeatedly, and unapologetically sinning, and expect to get away with it. And there’s lots of scripture backing me up on this. I’ll just cite one:
Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?… Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?Romans 6:1 & 2, 15 & 16
As C.S. Lewis noted, God is not safe. He is good, but he is not safe. So don’t test him.
The notion that Jesus is speaking not just of the physical, but also the spiritual, is reinforced when you look at the passage from the Old Testament that he uses to answer Satan.
“‘You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers…”Deuteronomy 6:16-18
This verse isn’t talking just about testing God by doing foolish things, like jumping from tall buildings. It’s talking about sin. About ignoring God’s commandments. And about obeying him if you want it to go well with you.
Gluttony is a sin. Yes, I believe I have an addiction. I believe it’s a dark, insidious, physical disease. But just as drug addiction or alcoholism doesn’t make it right to abuse your body with these things, neither does my addiction excuse my behaviour. And just because I hope and believe that I’m forgiven for that sin because Jesus died in my place, doesn’t mean I should continue to test God’s patience by wallowing in this addiction. Especially when I’ve been shown a way out.
Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
I need to remember this. When I’m tempted to go back to the things that were destroying me, I need to remember who I’m dealing with. Who I belong to. Who I’m testing.
My Lord – my God – is not safe.