This is part 2 in a series of 6 articles on Temptation. If you missed part 1, please scroll to the end of this article for the link.
Before we look at the steps, it’s important to understand the difference between temptation and sin.
Temptation trains the mind how to think, which leads us to doing things we don’t want to do (sin).
Sometimes people think they’ve already committed a sin just by thinking about it, but our thoughts are not our sin. They’re just thoughts until we act on them, and then they become sin. God doesn’t hold us responsible for temptation; only for the actions arising out of it.
Of course many wayward thoughts come involuntarily to the mind and these are merely a result of weakness and are not blameworthy unless they become fixed or even worse, are expressed in improper acts. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 363)
Often we fall into sin because we think we’ve already committed it by thinking it. Our lower nature lies to use by making us think that our thoughts are the sin, but they’re just thoughts. It’s a two step process: first the temptation, from which we can retreat, and then the acting out of the sin:
No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people (the temptation) . . . to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong (the sin) (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Notes, p. 223).
When we act on our idle fancies, we create messes which have to be cleaned up, so wouldn’t it be better to listen to God and obey Him in the first place?
So let’s say an idle thought crosses your path. You catch on to it, not recognizing it comes from your lower nature, and then here are the seven steps we take towards committing sin:
1. You dwell on it: You can stop temptation by not dwelling on it, which is perhaps one reason the Guardian tells us:
He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to Me. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 457)
2. You’re drawn into it by your own imagination: You’ve had the thought, and now you start thinking about it from time to time.
Your lower nature works at the level of your weakest link. We see this with prominent leaders, or even by Covenant Breakers like Mason Remy. He got so “high up” in the Faith as a Hand of the Cause, that his ego got in the way, first imagining and then convincing himself that he was the legitimate successor of Shoghi Effendi.
On a more personal level: Let’s say you have an evil thought towards someone. Perhaps they look at you the wrong way and you convince yourself that they hate you. You’re drawn to the thought, become preoccupied by it; let the feelings flow, building it up in your imagination.
When you find yourself tempted in this way and don’t immediately reject the thought, your lower nature pulls you further and further in, increasing the veils between you and God. You still haven’t sinned, but it’s no longer just an idle thought. It’s beginning to take form. Here is something you can do to stop the process:
Be vigilant against temptation, but do not allow it to claim too great a share of your attention. You should concentrate, rather, on the virtues that you should develop, the services you should strive to render, and, above all, on God and His attributes, and devote your energies to living a full Bahá’í life in all its many aspects. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 363)
3. Lust: This happens when you delight in viewing what temptation has to offer. You look forward to returning to that thought and playing it over and over in your mind, like watching a favorite TV show. You begin to act it out in your mind.
For example, for many years I was so angry with my parents for the abuse they perpetrated on me as a child that I couldn’t wait for them to die, so that I could go and stomp on their graves. I returned to this image so frequently that I could feel it in my body, as if it were really happening. (It’s good that I was relieved of this temptation, because my fantasy never would have come to fruition. They were both cremated and their ashes scattered practically before I was notified of their deaths!).
Or perhaps you have a lust for money. You want more of it. You conjure up increasingly complicated ways of getting it. You buy more and more lottery tickets, imagining and fantasizing about how you will spend it if you get it. A harmless preoccupation, you think? But it draws you into materialism and God doesn’t want you to be wealthy, except in Him, so your lust becomes your idol. ‘Abdul-Bahá describes this process:
Some were mere captives of self and desire, engulfed in the passions of the lower nature. They attained to wealth, to the comforts of life, to fame. And what was the final outcome? Utter evanescence and oblivion. Reflect upon this. Look upon it with the eye of admonition. No trace of them remains, no fruit, no result, no benefit; they have gone utterly — complete effacement. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)
So if you find yourself in this situation, stop! Ask yourself where this thought is coming from.
4. Weakening of the Will: If we pay attention to our thoughts long enough, our will starts to weaken. For example: Let’s say you have an eating problem, and you’re sitting right in front of a plate of cookies. It will be too hard not to reach out and grab one. Or perhaps you’re a recovering alcoholic, and you go into a bar with your drinking buddies . . . The best thing to do is to remove yourself from temptation:
Leave the ways of the people and count that the paths of the negligent ones are the lost and destroyed paths, and say: verily, He never walks in your paths and never does as ye have done. He hath already appeared and manifested His right path and taught all His true way. (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 233)
Many people think things in their minds that they don’t say out loud, yet it’s still entered the physical realm of the soul. For example, a married friend of mine is starting to have an affair with someone, and I am getting really worked up about it. I haven’t said anything to either person, yet every day I go over and over the facts in my mind, chewing on them and making them bigger and bigger. My disappointment in her; my judgementalism and feelings of superiority over her; and my fear for her marriage and her soul is distancing me from my friend even though she hasn’t a clue. Although I won’t say anything, the will to continue the friendship is being stretched to the max.
The goal of your lower nature is to get you to yield to temptation; to break down your will and resistance and get you to a place where you can n o longer resist. If you don’t walk away, you’re walking towards sin and death:
According to the teaching of the Prophets, disease and all other forms of calamity are due to disobedience to the Divine Commands. Even disasters due to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are attributed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indirectly to this cause. The suffering that follows error is not vindictive, however, but educative and remedial. It is God’s Voice proclaiming to man that he has strayed from the right path. If the suffering is terrible, it is only because the danger of wrongdoing is more terrible, for “the wages of sin is death.” Just as calamity is due to disobedience, so deliverance from calamity can be obtained only be obedience. There is no chance or uncertainty about the matter. Turning from God inevitably brings disaster, and turning to God as inevitably brings blessing. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 95)
So enticement lures, seduces; weakening our will and setting us up to commit sin and it’s all happening within our thoughts.
5. You yield to temptation: Yielding to temptation makes it physical. You haven’t acted on it yet, but it’s hard to stop at this stage, because you’ve committed to a certain course of action. You need to act quickly and deliberately in order to stop going forward now.
6. You’ve made a commitment to going ahead: You haven’t done it physically yet, but you’ve become one with the idea of doing it. You’ve reached for that cookie; ordered that drink; invited that person into your apartment, and what happens next is a foregone conclusion. Only an act of God will prevent you from going ahead now.
7. You commit the sin and a part of you dies: Death is the final consequence of sin. This could be a physical death as in AIDS, or a spiritual death, where your shame prevents you from believing God loves you, so you stop loving Him, and leave the Faith.
‘Abdul-Bahá explains it well:
We have forsaken the path of God; we have given up attention to the divine Kingdom; we have not severed the heart from worldly attractions; we have become defiled with qualities which are not praiseworthy in the sight of God; we are so completely steeped in material issues and tendencies that we are not partakers of the virtues of humanity. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)
So let’s put it all together. Let’s say you meet someone at work, and you think “I’d like to sleep with that person” (step 1). Then you think about all the reasons why (step 2). Then you start to obsess about it, thinking about it frequently, each time elaborating on what it would look like and feel like if you did (step 3). So you ask them out on a date (step 4), then you check to make sure you’ve got birth control taken care of (step 5); then you invite them back to your apartment (step 6); and then you take them to bed (step 7). And then there’s the morning after . . . And since you’ve done it once and you weren’t hit by a lightening bolt, you’re much more likely to continue.
I hope you’ll let me know what you think of these ideas, and then continue on to the next few articles, as I explore this topic more fully.
In part 1, we look at What is Temptation?
In part 3, we look at The Ways in Which we are Tempted
In part 4, we look at Why We are Tempted
In part 5, we look at Things We Can Do When We are Tempted
In part 6, we look at: The Consequences of Temptation and How to Prevent It