Tentatio: A Teacher of Virtue

Tentatio: A Teacher of VirtueOne Latin word encapsulates suffering: tentatio. Wrapped with adversity and affliction, tentatio depicts trial and temptation, the intense internal struggle from the crosses we bear and the crosses we cause others to bear. Tentatio can make us writhe and groan, tremble and doubt. With good reason we pray: “Lead us not into temptation” (ne nos inducas in tentationem).

Might tentatio be a teacher of virtue? In Psalm 119:71 the psalmist writes, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes,” and in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.” Through tentatio God drives us to know our frailties and face our helplessness with singleness of purpose: that we may turn to Jesus.

“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). This is not intended to be on an ad hoc, crisis-by-crisis basis. This is eternal. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).

Though undeniably painful, suffering and sorrow become neither futile nor fatal in the heart of the Christian. Through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Good Shepherd, our sins are forgiven, our burdens are His, and His righteousness is ours. We bring up our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) not that they might become merely moral and upright in character, but that they might have eternal life in His name. From this mystery comes fruit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

In our home our children bear burdens. They suffer from delusions, obsessions, and loneliness due to mental illness. Much could be said about this, especially because bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia seem neglected topics in education and in the church, yet tentatio is nothing new, nor is the remedy. Consider words from a hymn stanza written by Sigismund Weingärtner in 1609:

In God, my faithful God,
I trust when dark my road;
Though many woes o’ertake me
Yet He will not forsake me.
His love it is doth send them;
And when ’tis best will end them.
My sins assail me sore,
But I despair no more.
I build on Christ, who loves me;
From this rock nothing moves me.
To him I all surrender,
To him, my soul’s defender.

I trust when dark my road. My son composes music to ease his mind and my daughter writes poetry to unburden her soul. In the evenings, both young adults often sing hymns with me at the piano. This is not to be virtuous, but to know mercy. “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3).

My children’s life expectancy is shorter than most. In life as in death our confidence cannot be in the flesh. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). From this merciful consolation comes a desire to give consolation to others. Perhaps this is virtue. As Gene Veith often writes, “Our moral action in the temporal realm should not be primarily focused on our interior self-improvement but should be directed outside ourselves to benefit our neighbor.” This can become the focus of teaching, singing, and praying with our children: We do not seek virtue for ourselves. “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).

The burdens our family faces may not be your precise trials, but we know you have trials. Jesus tells us: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” But in the same breath He assures us abundantly: “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “He giveth power to the faint; and to them who have no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 40:29). No matter our burdens—the ones we bear for a short time or the ones we bear every day—we pray for peace and joy, confidence and strength amid tentatio, as we turn away from our own perceived virtue and to the One who restores our souls.

Through Christian studies, hymns, and prayers in our home we have often spoken openly about suffering. One day, during the semester we studied God’s presence in our struggles, Michelle retreated to her bedroom and emerged with words written on a page. I helped turn a phrase or two, but otherwise the thoughts and words are hers. In her collection Through Time’s Looking Glass she included this poem to share.

We all live in, with, and under tentatio. May this understanding lead us to serve each other as we receive the beneficent lovingkindness of the One who suffered on our behalf.

Ballad of the Suffering One

Little Beth lies all alone, on her bed awake.
Prayerful minded, “God alone, Jesus for my sake,
Thou wilt save me, God most high, from all without, within.
My darkest, most depressing thoughts, all I ever did….”

Through the night, I mourn, I weep. “Jesus, answer; care.”
Daylight shall be gone to grave, Jesus still is there.
Though I lie and some may place stones atop my head,
Jesus answers yet again. Jesus answers prayer.

“At your portal, at your door, I am listening.
I hear your cry; I hear your plea.
With light and airy footsteps tread,
Gladly follow Me.”

At the throne before the Lamb my journey here be done.
He looks me up, he looks me down, says “Unto Me,
child come.”
“Fellow sufferer,” He says, “I bid thee, welcome Home.”
So here I am, and here I’ll stay, within the court of God’s
own Lamb.

At His table He has called me to Himself again.
He picks me up; He cradles me in His tender arms.
He brings me home; He makes me His,
The Sufferer for the suffering one.

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