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The devil has two favourite haunts, two places he likes to pay us a visit: gardens and deserts.
Gardens are places of beauty and ease. There is abundant food, shade, birdsong. A garden is a taste of paradise. We are in a garden when our lives are pitch-perfect: great job, great marriage, close to God.
Into that, the ancient serpent – that old theologian – slips and asks questions: Is this enough? Don’t you want more? Don’t you feel that maybe God is keeping the best from you?
It turns out, the well fed, the well heeled, the comfortable, the pampered have little resistance to that line of logic. We don’t even break a sweat trying to fight him. Our sense of entitlement is so large, our sense of being cheated and hard done by so consuming, we instantly give our assent. We may not be hungry – we haven’t been for a long time – but our appetites have grown huge.
And then there are deserts. Stark, lonely, haunted places, barren of food, shade, song. A desert is a taste of hell. We are in a desert when our lives are off-kilter: horrible job, lousy marriage, far from God.
Into that, the ancient serpent – once again proving his knack for theological debate – slips and makes promises: Had enough? I can give you so much more. Don’t you feel that God’s ways are harsh? Come, follow me . . .
It turns out, the truly hungry, the desperately thirsty, are almost invincible. They can spot false logic a mile away. They can reduce to devil’s best eloquence and most cunning tactics – his testing “in every way possible” – to gibbering and blundering. They don’t even break a sweat defeating him. Their sense of dependency is so large, their sense of living by every word that comes from the mouth of God, they unhesitatingly make their refusal. Hunger has crucified their appetites.
It makes you almost wish for more deserts.
I confess I grow fat and lazy and complacent in gardens. I admit I grow lean and shrewd and dependent in deserts. Lord, I dare to pray, don’t leave me too long in this garden.
In Christ’s name, Amen.