A few weeks ago we had a lesson from the David O. McKay Manual, on Overcoming Temptation. One of President McKay’s insights I found particularly interesting:
Every temptation that comes to you and me comes in one of three forms:
- A temptation of the appetite or passion;
- A yielding to pride, fashion, or vanity;
- A desire for worldly riches or power and dominion over lands or earthly possessions of men.
I have two responses:
First, unless I miss my guess, President McKay seems to be drawing his list from the temptations of Christ in the wildnerness (the manual hints at this connection by reprinting Bloch’s Get Thee Hence Satan at the beginning of the lesson). Satan tempted Jesus’ appetites with bread, his vanity with the aid of angels, and his desire for power and dominion with riches and kingdoms. It makes sense that if President McKay’s list is complete, Satan had to give up after Jesus resisted these three– the devil had used all the prongs on his fork, and his supply of temptations was exhausted. Thus, although our adversary is ingenious at inventing new variations on our old sins, he is none too enterprising when it comes to completely new angles to exploit.
Still, the weapons he has seem to be sufficient for his purposes, where most of mankind is concerned. But these thoughts lead me to a new conclusion. If you look hard enough, I think this synthesis of kinds of temptations shows the true nature of sin. That is, all of the modes of temptation would beguile us into removing ourselves from the test of mortality.
First, think of some of the sins of appetite and passion. Gluttony, winebibbery, pornography, adultery, the Longbottom Leaf. Having indulged in a few sins of appetite myself, I think I understand their appeal: escape. Following my appetites to the farthest extension of their yearning allows me to withdraw from the world and find a tiny speck of transitory contentment, regardless of whatever challenges or struggles I’m dealing with in the real world. By encouraging this vacation, Satan makes it that much less appealing to take up the challenge of mortality, and fight for progress and happiness, as we must.
The sins of pride and vanity: fashion, ambition, materialism, putting oneself above one’s neighbor. Like the builders of the Tower in Babel, we are pushed by the impulse to get a step up in the mortal world, trying to signal that we are above the slow process of self-discipline. Pride and vanity ask us to believe, and signal to others, that we’ve already achieved what we need, and are not subject to the same rules that bind most men and women. This kind of sin denies God’s plan by convincing us that we really don’t need it.
The third category is much like the second. It focuses our minds away from dependence on God by telling us that worldly attractions are more relevant. It supplants our natural seeking for divinity with the obsessive pursuit of plumage and possession.
I’ve only detailed these sins in order to show that they all have a common thread. That is, that each of them finds a way to short-circuit God’s plan, and make mortality meaningless. Whether by the escape of appetite, or the shortcuts to perfection provided by pride, or the substitute gods of worldliness, Satan’s purpose is always to make us stop playing the game by the rules. In short, if the plan of mortality is a game with an objective and defined rules, sin is cheating.
While this may seem obvious to some, I think it’s an important shift in perspective. We think of sin as anything that brings misery, or anything that hurts others, or whatever is against the golden rule. All of these are true, but these definitions do not explain why sins are sinful: because they mess up the purpose of life. If you spend your probation trying to escape its conditions, or trying to skip ahead, or walking a path toward a different goal, you will lose your second estate. Thus, no matter the color or variation of the sin, Satan will always ask you to do one thing: refuse to play God’s little game, find some other game to play while you’re here. Satan is a cheater, and so is everyone else that follows him.