The Real Reason God Permits Temptation

Picture of by Matthew Leonard
by Matthew Leonard

Isn’t it funny (and annoying) that those things you gave up for Lent seem to present themselves way more often than normal? People keep offering you that frothy beer or fancy dessert, and you have to give it the old “just say no” Nancy Reagan routine.

And I don’t know about you, but it’s ridiculous how hard I often find it.

(Perhaps traveling to the land of biscotti and cappuccino on pilgrimage during Lent wasn’t my brightest idea.)

Even so, God uses temptations to our great advantage in Lent, as well as the rest of the year.

How? Why?

Well, temptation comes from the Latin tentare, which means “to try” or “to test.” So temptations are a tool God uses to see how we measure up.

“Matthew! Are you saying God actually causes temptation? Doesn’t James 1:13 says, God “tempts no one”?

Yes, it does.

We’re talking here about what are called “temptations of probation” – special trials allowed by God that aren’t encouragement to sin.

(The kind that come from the Devil are called “temptations of solicitation,” with which we’ll deal another time.)

Think of guys like Job and Abraham, or even St. Joseph.

They experienced trials. And so do we.


It’s pretty simple. God is testing the quality of our love.

He wants to know if you only say you love him at Mass (or on Fat Tuesday), or if you really love Him when the rubber meets the road.

(Of course, he already knows because he’s closer to us than we are to ourselves, as Augustine said. But we still have the free will to act one way or the other. As St. John Chrysostom says, “For we must first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. He does not anticipate our choice, lest our free-will should be outraged.”)

The great early 20th century theologian, Fr. Francis Remler calls temptations of probation a spiritual acid test.

They expose us like nitric acid poured over fool’s gold.

After all, a lot of people look virtuous.

They’ve got a big breviary with ribbons. A first-class relic of St. Jerome is embedded in the full-grained Italian leather cover of their limited edition Hebrew-Greek Interlinear Bible.

They can even pray over their meal in Latin.

But as far as God’s concerned, actions speak louder than a “Hammer of Heresies” tattoo peeking out from behind a rolled-up shirt sleeve.

He wants to know the true state of your virtue.

That’s the role of these kinds of temptations. God permits them because He wants to know if you practice what you preach.

That’s part of the value of Lent. It’s like a 40 day pass to a spiritual gym.

It’s a time to get pumped up.

And if you aren’t working out your spiritual muscles on a day-to-day basis, you’re going to become a 98lb. spiritual weakling.

I guess you could call God your personal spiritual fitness coach. And by permitting temptation, he not only gets you fit, but provides opportunities to flex your mystical muscle…not for your glory, but for His.

“In this you rejoice,” says St. Peter, “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 1:6-7)

So keep smiling and saying “no thank you” when the dessert tray comes your way in this penitential season.

You’re building virtue that will help you resist larger (and perhaps more dangerous) temptations in the future.

God bless you.


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11 Responses

  1. thanks Matthew for your concise easy to understand teachings on our faith I appreciate your sense of humour, love of Jesus and your hearts desire to share this love with others. I am a loyal follower blessings and Shalom

  2. Since God knows us better that we know ourselves, wouldn’t the test (or temptation) be more to prove something to us, rather than to prove to God what he already knows?

    1. Ahhh…the perennial question, Deacon Kurt. What you’re asking gets into the whole realm of grace and free will. It’s a mystery. Yes, God knows exactly what we’re going to do before we do it. So you could say that in a way it’s about proving it to ourselves. And yet, our actions dictate how God rewards (or doesn’t reward) us. Great question. It’s one of those things that will only be fully unpacked on the other side of heaven. God bless!

  3. Temptation came three times at our parish’s fish fry. A sumptuous plate of brownies sat at a table where I worked at our drive-up prep line. It was a particularly tempting dish. Later (twice!) youth volunteers brought ice cream for everyone in our area. I’m hoping to flex my spiritual muscles again this Friday.

  4. Thank you for the encouraging words, Matt. I’m watching the Genesis to Jesus course you presented that’s being streamed for free this Lent. I have a question: In the 4th lesson, you say that God gave Adam and Eve everything they needed to fight temptation. Did Mother Mary have the same graces they did? In both Adam and Eve, and our Lady’s case, they didn’t have concupiscence. In both cases, they were in a state of grace. Did God give our Lady something more to ensure that she wouldn’t fail no matter what?

    1. Neither had concupiscence, Ashwith, but Mary was already “full of grace.” As the Mother of God, she was in a unique position, having been immaculately conceived. That said, she certainly could have said, “no” when the Angel Gabriel came calling. Adam and Eve possessed preternatural gifts that were of great magnitude (i.e. infused knowledge, integrity/no concupiscence, and immortality of body), but were “not yet there,” so to speak.

      CCC 492 The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”.

      1. This helps immensely. Thank you so much Matt and God Bless! I’m really loving Genesis to Jesus. Hope you have a blessed Lent.

  5. I needed to hear this. I’ve been struggling this Lenten season. These words are so encouraging. Thank you!

  6. This is a timely post. I started this lenten journey with those things that I would “fast” from and add some pious devotions. Just two weeks ago, God took over my journey and determined what my “desert” experience would be, even with echos of some Holy Week expereinces. Humanly speaking, Im unnerved, feeling vulernable, even experience anxiety. His response is “I want you to TRUST ME. Not others, not even yourself. But Me, the God you say you love”…..There is a sense of peace (?) or something, through all of the above human emotions and weakness. It’s hard, scary, this path of holiness. But along the way, He has been merciful with the graces given. Thank you, Matthew

    1. That’s truly awesome, Dawn. What you’re describing is God moving you up the divine ladder. Stick with it and may your Lenten journey continue to draw you closer to his beautiful heart!

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