Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Quarter-Century After ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’

Martin Scorcese’s film, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” recently marked its 25th anniversary. My, how time flies! When it comes to anniversaries, I must admit that’s not one I’d marked on my calendar.

As a journalist, I viewed "The Last Temptation of Christ" when it was released in 1988. My reasoning was simple: It's hard to comment accurately and fairly when you don't know what you're writing about. There was a great furor over the film, based on a 1953 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Churches picketed, religious leaders called it “blasphemous.” And, as expected, the Hollywood elite gushed with praise. Scorsese even received an Academy Award nomination for best director.

The film concentrated on the humanity of Jesus, virtually ignoring His divinity. It depicted Him dealing with all manner of temptations, including fear, doubt, depression, and lust.

In one respect, the film was accurate. Hebrews 4:15 declares, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Both the author and Scorsese seemed to equate temptation and sin as one and the same. Clearly, as this verse states, they are not.

Temptation, as I’ve explained to men I’ve mentored, is being presented with the opportunity to sin. Sin is considering the temptation and moving into action. For instance, an alcoholic may be tempted if someone offers him a drink. The sin occurs if he drinks it, taking the first step in a downward spiral. We might become angry at someone and feel tempted to strike them. If we decide that seems like a good idea and take a swing, temptation has turned into sin.

So yes, Jesus could have been tempted “in every way, just as we are,” yet without sinning if He resisted the temptations. Which is what the Bible teaches.

My observations of “The Last Temptation” at the time – and still today – were twofold:
1) The film was boring and extremely slow-moving, hardly worthy of any cinematic commendation – except perhaps from the sleep-deprived. It was a box office flop as much for that reason as it was for the protests.
2) If Jesus did in fact deal with a "last temptation," it would not have been to experience some human failing. Rather, it would have been to forgo the cross, decreeing that we're not deserving of His once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. Because we’re not.

Instead of paying the price Himself, suffering as excruciating and humiliating a death as anyone possibly could, Jesus as God could have avoided the cross. He could have elected instead for us to suffer the consequences and receive the eternal penalty for our sins that we truly deserve.

Thankfully, the Lord did not yield to such a temptation and today, 2,000 years later, the free gift of salvation remains available to all that will receive it. As Romans 5:8 asserts, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Yes, I do believe there was a “last temptation of Christ.” It just wasn’t what Kazantzakis or Scorsese imagined.


Denis Ledoux said...

Basically this is a discussion of fundamentalism vs deeper spirituality, between religiosity vs spirituality. Jesus as a historical character seems irrelevant to me. Jesus as a symbol is interesting. Fundamentalism vs more.

Bob Tamasy said...

Denis, I appreciate your comments, although I respectfully disagree. "Fundamentalism" is a handy label we throw out, one size fits all. I for one dislike the term and don't believe I fit the demeaning caricature the term creates. I do believe, however, in the Bible as God's inspired truth, not as a collection of nebulous principles and ideals. As author C.S. Lewis, the one-time atheist turned follower of Christ, wrote of Jesus:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”