I think Jesus went into the wilderness, because the most important moments of life occur when we are in the wilderness. Jesus was both fully human and fully God. We are both fully loved by God and fully subject to human frailties and doubts. Jesus responded to the wilderness in a fully human way, setting for us an example. This becomes clearer if you rephrase the Devil’s questions so that they sound more like the questions we face in our lives.
1)If you are loved by God, why are you hungry (or poor, or sick, etc.)?
2)If you are loved by God, why are you still here? (You should be someplace better, like heaven or Hawaii) Why aren’t you super-human?
3)If you are loved by God, why aren’t you in charge?
These challenges affect every person in some way. Even very humble and ordinary people sometimes need to know that they are special. They cherish the love that a parent, spouse, or the family pet lavishes on them. Reality intrudes on this. The one who has loved us on this earth without preconditions, turns on us, or becomes senile, or dies. We ask ourselves, am I worth loving? If I was worth loving, then I would be depressed, or out of a job, or without a friend.
Unconditional love lies at the heart of the Gospel, or good news. Jesus knows that this is the stuff of heaven. In the spiritual world there is no doubt, all are loved. In this world, however, we toil under constantly changing conditions. Sometimes we are accepted. Sometimes we are scorned. We learn in time to doubt ourselves. After thirty odd years of living in our world, Jesus has reason to fully join us in our self-doubt. “Are you the Son of God?” the Devil asks. “You don’t look it. Why are you hungry. Why are you alone? Why aren’t you living in a palace?”
Jesus doesn’t answer by saying that he knows he is God’s son and unconditionally loved. We won’t be helped in our doubts by answering the Devil, “I know I am a Christian and God loves me.” Instead, Jesus goes to the basic reality. There is a physical world with all of its doubts and wilderness moments. But there is also a spiritual world that speaks a word, a truth from God, into even the humblest life.
When we are tempted to work 80 hours a week or attempt something risky efforts to secure our position at work or to make people love us, the Devil comes to us and says, “If you are a Christian, then you shouldn’t get stressed out. Show that you are superior. Do the miracle of going weeks without a full night’s sleep.” We must answer, like Jesus, “You shouldn’t test God. Six days labor, one day sabbath.” It is both the human way and the spiritual way.
When we want to be in charge and control everything, which is most of the time, the Devil says to us, “You can do it.” But, we can’t. One of the things worship does for us is to help us accept our humanity, and in that grounded-ness of being fully human, we get the strength to deny our own delusions of grandeur. Along with Jesus, we say to the Devil, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”