The English language can be a very confusing means of communication and none more so than when you are studying Statistics and in particular Probability. Students who study this in Mathematics A level visibly shudder at the sound of a permutations, combinations or conditional probability question. For example, a question may ask you to work out the probability a tennis player who has played two matches, won the first match, given he won at least one of the two matches. You can overthink the problem and begin to wonder why the tennis player does not know what happened in the first match!
However there is a saying that I like that says if you take the text out of context, what you have left is a con. Clearly there is more to the question and the set up or context is just as important as the question. It is in this scenario that we find Jesus and the devil on top of the Temple during the second temptation in the desert. The devil has lead Jesus up to the top of the Temple and told Jesus to throw himself off, quoting bible verses that God will send angels to save him “lest he should dash his foot against a stone”.
The test puts Jesus in a theological trap: by not doing it, it would suggest he does not trust God to do it and by doing it, he risks starting his ministry with a broken leg. It is actually a situation anyone can find themselves in. When faced with a difficult decision to take, we can feel pressured into being irresponsible because God has promised to look after us and it can look like our faith is weak if we do not rely on his providence. Yet if we have not discerned or thought about the decision enough, this can be a blind leap of faith that does not do justice to the gifts of reason or free will that we have been given.
To take each in turn, providence is a beautiful response to trust. We live in a society where our basic needs are usually meet without any worry on our part. To stop and take account of our blessings is to realise how lucky we are. There are many stories of people stepping out in faith and relying on God to provide and invariably He does. We can often look back on difficult decisions and realise that we were looked after. We are called to be co-creators with him, to take the first step and he will do the rest. Our trust is not misplaced. However this does not mean we should be jumping off Temple roofs.
Another of God’s gifts to us is the ability to reason and make responsible decisions. Although he can do everything, he wants us to be a part of it and to take responsibility for it. This is seen in the creation story where he gives us the responsibility of naming the animals and caring for creation. We are not meant to sit back and say God will sort it out; no matter how big the problem appears, we are called to do something about it. It is the same as a Dad giving money to their child to buy a Mothers’ Day present for their Mum, rather than doing it themselves.
So we come back to standing with Jesus on the roof. Do we act responsibly and admit to having little faith or step off blindly and rely fully on God’s saving power? Jesus’ answer was to quote a bible verse back at the devil, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test”. Each moment presents a different situation and requires a different response. The mystery of our faith is in not testing God’s power, but relying on his promises in the context they are given. The Bible is not a manual for how to take every decision in life but a dynamic guide book full of inspiration.
A mystery of faith is realising that one response can be correct in one context but not in another. We are called to act and trust but equally to discern and be responsible. It is just one of the many paradoxes that make Christianity so beautiful.