“Pokemon Go” came out this past week in app stores, and, consequently, twenty-somethings all over are reliving their childhood calling to “catch ‘em all!” By using smartphones, we can now see the teeming masses of Pidgeys and Rattatas that pepper the landscape as we hunt the elusive Scyther on campus (no exaggeration; NOBTS is covered with Pidgeys and Rattatas). I have to admit that I’m sucked into the craze. For a simple enough game, “Pokemon Go” delivers hours of fun.
While studying James this week, I was caught off guard by how much James’ description of the progression of lust sounds like the evolution of a Squirtle, a Charmander, or a Bulbasaur. James writes,
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
The word James uses for “desire” can have a negative or a positive connotation depending on the context; here, the word carries a negative connotation (it translates as “lust” in some translations). James is making the point that we can’t blame anyone or anything else when we give in to temptation. Our own lusts are the roots of our sins, and, therefore, we have no excuse before God. But James doesn’t just show us where the fault lies; he also outlines the progression, making it clear that our lusts give birth to sins which ultimately will lead to death. And that’s where the Pokemon parallel comes into play.
Most Pokemon start out as cute little creatures. They seem innocent enough and fairly harmless. If you continue to feed and nurture your Pokemon, they will eventually evolve into a slightly larger, slightly more intimidating creature. Even so, they remain fairly restrained; they don’t seem to be that big of a threat. But after more feeding and nurturing, they will eventually evolve into a giant monster. In this form, they can be terrifying and devastating.
I think we often view our lusts in the same way. We all have desires that don’t need to be encouraged, but we often view these desires as benign. We think them to be harmless in the initial “thought” stage, so we entertain them. When they eventually grow into sin (and they will grow into sin if we give them room), we recognize the issue fairly quickly: sin is clearly wrong. Yet even then, we believe we can manage the sin, as if we are strong enough to sin and not be hurt. Eventually, though, sin produces death, something that even the strongest among us cannot defeat.
In order to avoid sin and death, we must defend ourselves at the first level: the tempting of our lustful desires. To do that, James calls us to remember a great truth, writing:
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
The great truth is that God is a good, holy, faithful Father. Evil cannot tempt him, nor can it out-give him. He is the source of every good gift we will ever receive and of every joy we will ever experience. And his faithfulness to provide is found in the fact that he has already met our greatest need with his greatest gift. He sent his Son into the world to save sinners, all by his good will. Such grace and mercy demands our worship, and such a Father is worthy of our surrender. By his grace, we are saved from sin, and, by his provision, we do not have to return to what held us captive.
So when you are tempted, turn your eyes from the fleeting follies of sin to an eternal, loving Father. Don’t let the lust “evolve” into sin and death; cut it off at the root. And praise the beautiful Lord who rescues us from the futility of sin.