In his book, The Three Edwards, Thomas Costain tells the story of three kings of England from 1272 to 1377 all of whom were conveniently and confusingly named Edward. According to a well-used illustration from Costain’s book, in the mid to late 1300’s, there was a Duke Raynald III. He was extremely overweight. He was so fat that people didn’t call him by his name any more. They called him by the nickname, Crassus, which means fat in Latin. So essentially everybody just called him “Fatso.” Ouch!
His younger brother was one of the Edwards (the third one, I think), and somewhere along the way, Raynald and Edward had a huge disagreement and Edward led a revolt against Raynald. In most stories like this, the overthrown person was killed or, at the very least, locked away in some dungeon or tower never to be seen again. Edward had a better idea – he had a room built around Raynald, inside Raynald’s own castle. Edward told Raynald that he could take over his castle and his property just as soon as he could leave his new room.
There were no locks on the doors or windows. So what held Raynald in his room? Why didn’t he just walk out and take his castle back? Well, when Edward had the room built, he made sure that all the doors and windows were smaller than normal. They were big enough for someone who was thin to go in and out, but Raynald was too fat to get through the door. The only way he could leave the room was to lose weight.
So, why didn’t he do it? I’m pretty sure every morning he woke up and said to himself, “Ok, today I’m going to only eat a little bit.” And maybe he could have done it, except that, every day, his brother Edward made sure that all kinds of delicious and tempting food was sent into Raynald’s room. And Raynald got fatter and fatter all the time.
Some folks told Edward that he was being cruel to Raynald but Edward said, “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.”
Raynald only got out of that room after Edward died in battle in 1371. By then it was too late for Raynald. His health was gone and he died later the same year.1
Raynald may not have been a prisoner, but he was held captive not so much by his brother, but by his appetite.
If you think about it, we’re all a lot like Raynald and Satan is like Edward. Whatever our individual weaknesses are, he makes sure to keep those temptations coming so that we won’t be able to escape.
Unlike Raynald, though, we have Someone on our side who is willing to help us escape.
“The Word does not say that we are to count it all joy when we fall under temptation, but when we fall into temptation. It is not necessary to fall under temptation, for temptation comes upon us for the trying of our faith. And the trying of our faith worketh patience, not fretfulness and murmuring. If we put our trust in Jesus, He will keep us at all times, and will be our strength and shield. We are to learn valuable lessons from our trials. Paul says, ‘We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope …’ (Romans 5:3-5).
“Many seem to think that it is impossible not to fall under temptation, that they have no power to overcome, and they sin against God with their lips, talking discouragement and doubt instead of faith and courage. Christ was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. He said, ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me’ (John 14:30). What does this mean? It means that the prince of evil could find no vantage ground in Christ for his temptation. And so it may be with us….” (E.G. White, That I May Know Him, p. 279)
If, as Mrs. White says, “It is not necessary to fall under temptation …,” why do we continue to give in? Why is it so difficult to withstand temptation?
My theory is that we fall because our first thought when we’re tempted isn’t, “Help me Jesus,” but “Oh, that’s interesting.”
When Eve walked past the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, her first mistake was that she didn’t keep walking. She stopped to look at the tree. She may have already been thinking about how delicious the fruit looked and had the off-hand thought, “This fruit looks so good, I wonder why we can’t eat it,” even before the serpent spoke to her.
Was that thought, by itself, a sin? Could she have still walked on by at that point and everything be ok? Yes, I think so. But as she was thinking those thoughts, she stood by the tree admiring the fruit for just a little bit too long and then, with just a few words, the serpent had her.
In the C.S. Lewis book, Perelandra, (2nd book of the Space Trilogy), Lewis explores the power of evil and temptation. The book takes place on newly peopled Venus. The innocent woman is pursued by someone who is trying to get her to commit a sin. The hero, named Ransom, tries to come between the woman and the evil presence and keep her from sinning. The pursuit goes on for days and Lewis is able to discuss the complexities of the conflict between good and evil. My only problem with the book (even though it’s one of my favorites on many other levels) is that the innocent woman comes off as clueless … and I don’t believe that Eve was that unaware. I believe that she knew she shouldn’t be around the tree…but she just wanted to look at it. And once she let that thought become an action, the next thought, “That fruit looks really yummy” becomes a question of God’s authority, “I wonder why we can’t eat it.” So that when the serpent showed up and asked her the same question, she had already fallen. Taking and eating the fruit was just the outward sign.
The battle is fought in our minds. That’s why Paul says,
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5
With the help of the Holy Spirit we must take every thought captive and turn it over to God so that the temptations we experience all day every day don’t get caught in our minds and become something more.
Let’s not become captives of temptations like Raynald. God is just waiting to send each of us the help we need every single moment.
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” 1Corinthians 10:13
- Thomas Costain, The Three Edwards, Buccaneer Books ↩