God on Trial

Traditionally, the Church has understood Our Lord’s three temptations in the desert as a summary of the temptations we face. St. Thomas observes, “The matter of all sins were included in the three temptations.” By this interpretation, Our Lord occupies our place. On our behalf He undergoes and triumphs over the temptations of the evil one. Or, better still, in Him we triumph over all temptation.

There is, however, another way of understanding Our Lord’s temptations. Instead of seeing us in Christ’s place, we can see ourselves in the devil’s. Without denying the significance of the traditional interpretation, we can understand the devil’s temptations of Our Lord as signifying also the various ways in which we tempt God — that is, how we test Him and put Him on trial. It is not a flattering interpretation, to be sure. But we often need strong medicine for healing.

Consider the devil’s basic question to the accused: “If you are the Son of God …” (Lk 4:3, 9). This expresses an attitude, implicit if not explicit, that we assume quite often. It is a petulant, peevish response to God’s self-revelation. He reveals Himself and rather than taking Him at His word, rather than responding in faith, we demand proof. We say, in effect, “Oh, yeah? Prove it.” Zechariah copped this attitude and received a rather severe punishment. God’s messenger declared to him, “you will be speechless and unable to talk … because you did not believe my words” (Lk 1:20).

The devil also exemplifies the particular proofs we demand. There is, first of all, the proof of worldly comfort: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Lk 4:3). For us to believe, we demand that He give us want we want for our worldly comfort. We may not have this exact thought process, but the attitude lurks within. For some reason we suppose that our health and wealth is proof of His divinity — and that the lack or loss of them is reason to doubt or reject Him. How many people lose their faith precisely because they lost the worldly comfort on which they had based it. If He is God, they say, He would not have allowed this.

Second, we demand power. “All this will be yours, if you worship me,” says the devil (Lk 4:7). Now, we would never be so crass as to demand that He worship us. At least not in so many words. But we do demand that He conform to our way of thinking and our way of living before we will let Him into our world. In other words, He must set aside His divine claims before we allow Him in. No, we do not close Him out entirely. We just require Him to take a lower, less divine place — right there alongside our other devotions, interests and hobbies. Instead of conforming ourselves to Him, we demand that He conform Himself to us.

Third, we demand “signs and wonders” in order to believe. The devil demanded a spectacle — that Jesus throw Himself from the temple parapet and let His angels save Him. That would get their attention. Likewise, we demand something stupendous and amazing (which Our Lord warned against specifically: cf. Mt 24:24; Mk13:22; Jn 4:48). We are not content to marvel and wonder at the “small” workings of God. We have grown bored with His “regular” works. We want something big!

Chesterton succinctly condemns this spiritual boredom: “There is only one sin: to call a green leaf grey.” Sin comes from boredom with the wonder of God’s creation, with His small voice, and with His smaller presence in Mary and in the Eucharist. The irony is, those who insist on miracles typically do not believe them when they come — exactly as Our Lord warned: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead” (Lk 16:31).

“Prove it” is not a good attitude toward God. We should instead say, “Help me to see!” Mother Church gives us Lent as a time to correct our mindset and cultivate the proper openness to and delight in God’s self-revelation — so that as Easter comes our response to Him will be one not of doubt but of devotion: “My Lord, and my God!”

Fr. Paul Scalia


Father Paul Scalia was born Dec. 26, 1970 in Charlottesville, Va. On Oct. 5, 1995 he was ordained a Deacon at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City-State. On May 18, 1996 he was ordained a priest at St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington. He received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in 1992, his STB from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1995, and his M.A. from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome in 1996.

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  • This article is quite the examination of conscience, and for not just individuals but our culture. Very insightful; thank you Father.

  • allboys

    Just a note that Fr. Scalia is now Pastor of St. John the Beloved parish in McLean, VA.

  • Thanks for the note allboys; I have corrected the info about him.

  • iprycejr

    Father Scalia,

    Strong medicine indeed: )
    Thank you very much for your article.

    Warm regards,

    Ian jr