Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Worldly Temptation: The Absolute Evil is Here!

In 1995, the heroes of the DC universe went through "Underworld Unleashed." In this three-part series, the Satanic figure, Neron, wants to bring Hell to Earth in order to destroy the world's heroes once and for all.

In issue one, he begins by tempting the villains. Some of them agree to trade their soul for something else that they craved (power/wealth/you-name-it).

In issue two, Neron moves on to tempt the heroes. He hopes that if he can catch them at their weakest point and tempt them with things that they are bound to desire, he will be able to get them to trade away their souls. Besides tempting Batman with resurrecting Robin and tempting Superboy to be able to become Superman, Neron tempts the Flash where he is bound to be the frailest:

"Neron didn't come to Earth unaccompanied. He brought a cloud of torment with him... and it continues to billow. St. Louis has been ablaze for two days. The authorities are too busy quelling the riots to do much about it. Fortunately... the world's fastest fireman is on the job..."

Although Flash remains persistent in putting out fires, he thinks to himself, "I'm dyin' here! I can't keep night and day straight anymore! Even working non-stop--I'm barely making a dent! Feels like I've been here a week! I'm run ragged! Next thing you know... I'll start seeing things..."

At this point, Wally West is dead tired. He's not even sure if he can trust himself anymore. And then, he meets Neron.

"Hello, Flash."
"I grant heart's desires, Flash.
For the meager price of one soul.
You can realize yours."

All of a sudden, the flames don't burn anymore. The building's still on fire. But, Flash doesn't feel the heat. It's an eerie facade of comfort as he faces the devil. After the Flash asks who Neron is, the demon retorts that they don't directly know each other (yet). But, he has already taken care of (killed) one of the Flash's nemesis gangs (Rogues Gallery). Besides that, he offers to bring Barry Allen (the previous Flash) back from the dead if Flash is willing to give Neron his soul.

"I can bring him back, Flash. Just say the word."

"He wants to. The man's voice is more seductive than any friend's, any lover's. | And he is so tired... so tired..."

As Neron tempts Wally, these thoughts race through his mind. A picture of his friend and mentor appears before them. He would give almost anything to have the real Flash back.

"Barry ..?

... You're...
... You're...


After the slight hesitation, Wally punches through the specter proclaiming that his temptations are invalid. He knows that Neron's merely playing him, tricking him, attempting to steal his soul.

"I don't know what's going on--but I do know that wherever Berry is... it's someplace you could never get him! Did you think you could bag me this easily, you sicko?"

"Truthfully? No. But it hardly matters. I've set my sights on a far purer soul than yours, anyway. It belongs to someone you know--it's close within my grasp--and once I have it... You'll all follow..."

We know exactly how Flash felt while putting out those fires. We know exactly what he means, "We're dyin' here! We (typically) can't keep night and day straight anymore! Even working non-stop--we barely make a dent in our to-do lists. It feels like we've been behind forever! We're running ragged!"

No matter what we attempt to do in this world, it feels as if we have too much on our plate. We're attempting an ever-failing balancing act while simultaneously putting out fires of our own (along with the fires already started by everyone else around us). Even if we manage to go one day without messing everything up, if we manage to think, "we're doing alright" and "it's going to be ok," something happens and our optimism is crushed.

If only there were some way to have our dreams met... If only someone could give us our heart's desires.... If only we could just say one word and have it accomplished for us... If only someone could fix everything in our lives for us...

Wait, now... Isn't Wally faced with an interesting decision? When he reached the pinnacle of his suffering, the end of his rope, Neron is there ready to assist him. Isn't that wonderful? What a friend... Neron must be pretty great. Wait a minute... Flash may get the things he desires most... But, at what price?

Something just like this happened way back in Genesis:

"Once when Jacob [a quiet man who preferred to stay at home] was cooking stew, Esau [his huntsman brother] came in from the field, and he was exhausted." He was at the same pinnacle of low that the we and the Flash often find ourselves in.

"Esau said to Jacob, 'Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!'... He had only one heart's desire. And, a pretty practical one at that.

"Jacob said, 'Sell me your birthright now.'" At what price would Esau be willing to sell one of his most prized possessions--his entire inheritance that he had been granted since birth?? For a cup of stew?!?

"Esau said, 'I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?'" He felt as if he would die if he didn't get something to eat soon. Aren't we often that picky?

"Jacob said, 'Swear to me now.'" He just had to say the word.

"So he [Esau] swore to him [Jacob] and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright." Esau made the deal and walked away, just like many of the villains who first encountered Neron.

But, that's not right, is it?

Isaac [Esau and Jacob's father] blessed him [Jacob] and said, "My God give you of the dew of heaven... Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you"

When Esau came back to his father's bedside wishing to receive his blessing, "His father Isaac said to him, 'Who are you?' He answered, 'I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.' Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, 'Who was it then .... before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.'" .... "Your brother... has taken your blessing."

Unlike the Flash, Esau gave into his temptations. He paid the price. He lost his entire inheritance for a cup of stew. When he should have replied with something like, "Did you think you could bag me this easily, you sicko?" he responded with, "Just feed me already."

Which one are you? Are you content to weigh the circumstances, to be content with what you have? Or, do you give up on the things that matter for the straw-man of a better future? You know, even if we say we are able to deny temptation once. It gets even harder. Bigger things hit than just the daily struggles. We begin to face instances that are even more of a hell. Would we give in?

When the third issue of the series came around, we get to follow some of the heroes as they broke their way into the Underworld (Neron's world) itself. As they ploy through Hell's layers, "Hope flashes like lightning..."

"... Only to roll away like summer thunder..."

Even though the Flash has already made it through the fires, faced Neron's temptation, and dug his way into Hell, he is ready to give up. "You win, Neron. I'm done... I can't... I can't fight Hell. I'm sorry..." And, Warrior's remark doesn't help in the least, "Sorry t'who, kid? Earth's probably a big ball o' radioactive charcoal by now. Why the hell bother? What's it all gonna matter?"

The Flash gave in. He gave up. Although he was no longer directly tempted by Satan, he still fell into one of his traps. He became discouraged. He fell apart. He stopped caring and gave in. The temptation was too much. He was too worn down. He could no longer carry on.

Where do we go when struggles like this hit? Even we haven't given in to the daily temptations, selling our inheritance for stew (like Esau), that doesn't mean we're safe when life suddenly gets worse.

Satan is always trying to trick us, to tempt us, to deceive us. And, he is seems the strongest when we are at our weakest. But, with God we are not powerless.

All this tempting reminds me of Matthew 4. Jesus also stood in the face of temptation.

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Here, he had the physical temptation. And, later he would face the suffering. He would face humility, persecution, agony, pain, and death itself. But, he did not give up. He did not let the Devil win by getting out of the mess. He stayed in the ring. He fought for what was right. Like Socrates, he rather died than to give into the immorality of this world. But, unlike Socrates, He knew what was at stake. If Christ would have given in just once, for a millisecond, the world would have been lost. Lucifer would have won. It would all be over.

What I neglected to show you above was the next panel. What happened after the Flash gave up? Did he cry? Did he pack up his stuff and go home? Or, was it worse? Did he die? Actually, no.

Captain Marvel, the purest soul around, responds to Warrior's remark. "I---I don't believe you people! Since when doesn't the Earth matter? Pull yourselves together! We have to press on..."

At times of temptation,when things are really truly tough, if we don't know what to do, or really any other time at all, it helps to gain perspective. If we hunger for our heart's desire now, whether it be bread, stew, or the reincarnation of Berry Allen, we might regret it later. It won't be worth the price we pay.

With perspective, we know that even though the Devil thinks "You'll all follow," we know he's wrong. He's too arrogant to know that he has lost. Christ has already won. He was the perfect sacrifice, the paschal lamb, the final offering, and holy Son of God (he still is by the way). If we keep our eyes fixed ahead, on what really matters, straining toward the goal--instead of focusing on our stomachs--then we may be free from the thoughts that plague us.

"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself."

... Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

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