Message from Fr. Peter Andronache
In the spiritual vocabulary of the church we sometimes hear about “temptations from the left” and “temptations from the right.” Temptations from the left refer to the usual temptations to sin and a lax attitude towards the spiritual life. Temptations from the right refer to thoughts that justify a sin by assigning that sin a purportedly holy aim or that give us a sense of self-satisfaction with how virtuous or holy we are, instilling in us a sense of pride. It is not by accident that this terminology is used, as it reminds us that “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matt. 7:13) We, for our part, are called stay on the narrow path and not deviate either to the right or to the left, even though “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:14).
I think we are used to talking about (and, perhaps, confronting) temptations from the left. However, temptations from the right, because they are related to things that are good and distorting that goodness, can be trickier to perceive. So let’s take some examples, starting with work.
Work is something that was divinely ordained before the fall: “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As such, we can say that work is good for human beings. However, it is not the ultimate good. As important as a job may be to some of us, it is not the element that defines our essence or worth as human beings – that role is taken by our creation in the image and likeness of God. Of course, there are other reasons why work can take over a person’s life – low pay or as a means of escape from other problems. Those point to other problems, beyond the scope of this article.
On the opposite side of work is rest. This, too, was ordained by God, who rested on the seventh day from His work in creation and gave a day of rest to mankind. But this, too, can become a temptation – with tiredness making it seem appealing and ads often depicting a life of ease as something to which we should aspire. Yet the Bible warns us that ease can lead to complacency (see Ps. 72/73, Is. 32, and Lk. 12). We see, then, that there is a need for balance in our lives, where both work and rest are given their place, with neither becoming an absolute goal.
The final temptation from the right that I will mention here is the family. Again, this is something that God has made, saying that it was not good for Adam to be alone and thus creating Eve. And the Psalms remind us of the blessing of children: Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord (Ps. 128). Even churches can fall prey to this temptation, as we even see some be closed for Christmas because “it is a time for family.” And, as we also see quite often, family activities, if we do not pay attention, can take so much time that God and church become and afterthought. As we begin a new year, if we find ourselves caught in that pattern let us keep the words of Deuteronomy 8 at the front of our minds: “Remember the Lord your God.” This deliberate remembrance is an important part of our spiritual life.
There are other temptations from the right – to “righteous” anger, to envy and ill-will towards those who seem to not deserve their wealth, fame, or power, and many others. Combating each of these requires us to be prayerful, attentive to our thoughts, and conversant with the relevant Scripture passages.
May God guide us as we negotiate the inevitable temptations of life, from both the right and the left.
With love in Christ