When I walk by a bank, I don’t feel the slightest temptation to go in and rob it. The thought doesn’t even cross my mind. I don’t resist the temptation, because there’s nothing to resist.

When someone behaves rudely towards me, I’m strongly tempted to alter my behavior towards that person, perhaps to retaliate in some way, at least to become more inward in the relationship.

When I walk by a bank and continue down the street, I don’t relive the encounter over and over in my mind, the way I do when I have deliberately walked away from some rudeness without retaliation. In the latter case, I sometimes retaliate over and over, in my mind.  I experiment in imagination with different forms and degrees of retaliation, and get satisfaction just from the fantasies.  Often, for a while, I can scarcely think of anything else.

(It’s probably like what the seasoned bank robber must go through who walks away from what would have been an effortless heist!)

Why the difference? The worldly reward of successfully robbing the bank would be substantial, while the worldly result of a successful personal retaliation would probably only be further damage to the relationship. Yet the latter tempts me, and the former doesn’t.

When our Lord advises us to ask our Father not to lead us into temptation, I read that as the implied request that we rather be led from or out of temptation. In other words, what we are working towards, with God’s assistance and by God’s grace, is the state of being indifferent towards pernicious temptation, just as I currently – by God’s grace – am indifferent to the thought of robbing banks.

Which are the pernicious temptations? As many as there are people, I suppose. But if we look at our Lord’s own prayer, surely what is striking is what comes immediately before this particular petition: “…forgive us as we forgive others…”

The temptation to refuse forgiveness, in Christ’s way of thinking, is the most satanic of all.

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