I recently heard about a man recalling an incident from his childhood when a man molested him. He asked God, “Where were you when that was happening?” In his quest for healing, this man received a response from God: “I was there trying to get him to stop, but his will to do it prevented me.”
I am not interested in visiting the theological question of God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will, not will I, because of such implications, question whether God really spoke these words to the man. Rather, assuming that God really did try to get the molester to stop, I would like to look at the implications this event has for those struggling with sin.
It is common for people who have had traumatic experiences to ask God where he was or why he did not prevent it. What surprises me is not that so many people ask God, “where were you” when someone sinned against them; what surprises me is how few ask where God is when they are the ones committing the sin. We have a strong desire to see God intervene and prevent others from sinning against us, but where is the desire to have God prevent us from sinning when we are being tempted? If we hated our own sin as much as we hate the sins others commit against us, we would never sin willfully again.
Paul gives us a powerful promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” It is reassuring to know that God provides a way out of every temptation. But have you ever asked what the way out might be? When you have been tempted in the past, have you ever looked for God’s way out of the temptation? We certainly have looked for ways out, but they are usually our own ways out, things we think of to avoid giving in to temptation. But what is God’s way out?
On one level it can be said that God’s way out is to bring an end to the temptation. If a temptation lasts too long, our endurance will wear out and we will ultimately give in to it. So God shortens it. But it seems that there is more to it than that. The stated reason for God’s provision of a way out is so we can “endure it.” That suggests that God’s provision of the way out occurs before the temptation comes to an end. Perhaps something else needs to happen after God provides the way out before the temptation comes to an end. What else needs to happen? We need to make the decision to take the way out rather than to give in to the temptation. But what does he do to provide the way out?
I can recall times when I was tempted and unexpected things happened to distract me from the heat of the moment, like phone calls, loud noises, or unexpected visits from people. It is likely that in some of those instances God brought about the distraction to keep me from sinning. Other times God has brought things to my mind to help convince me that sinning is not a wise decision. Sometimes Scripture jumps into my head, which serves not only as a godly distraction, but as ammunition against the attacks of the enemy.
God has many ways of bringing a temptation to an end, thus enabling you to outlast it. All of these are examples of God trying to get you not to give in to temptation. In the case with the man who molested the young boy, God provided a way out of his temptation, but he chose not to take it. Similarly, God is constantly providing ways to get us out of our temptations. The loud noise, the phone call, the Scripture jumping into your head – these are all ways out of the temptation, the kind of things God does to try to get us not to do it.
The question is, will we allow God to stop us, or will we, by force of our fallen will, commit the sin anyway? God will and does intervene to convince us to do the right thing, but he always leaves the decision to us. He made his decision to deal with us this way the day he gave us free will. We cannot blame God for our sins or criticize him for not stopping us from sinning. We make our own decisions, sometimes despite God’s efforts to get us to do otherwise.
What course of action can one take to increase your chances of making good decisions when being tempted? First, you must make a decision to seek God’s help and submit to it when you are being tempted. But this decision must be made at a time when you are not facing temptation, so that when the time of testing comes you can fall back on your prior decision and choose to be faithful to your decision to submit to God. Then when temptation comes, you can take a moment to ask, “God, where are you in this temptation?” Or, “What is your way out of this temptation? Show it to me and I will take it.” Do not wait until the temptation has grown strong. Do this the moment a temptation begins and see if it helps you to make better decisions at the precise times in your life when you have a history of making poor ones.
Second, you should memorize 1 Corinthians 10:13, so that when you are tempted you can recite that verse in your head, and then ask God for the way out. You will surely feel better afterward if you resist temptation than you will if you give in to it. The guilt is not worth the satisfaction. Remember, God is with you. He is there helping you, not allowing the temptation to be too much for you to handle. And he is providing a way out. He has stacked the deck in your favor. Now play the hand the way he wants you to and he will show you how to come out a winner.