And then, on December 26, ISON will fly within 40 million miles of Earth. Researchers are saying that there is no danger of impact.
As reassuring as this may be, however, there are other “heavenly bodies” hurtling through the cosmos that do raise the question of the safety—and the survival—of planet Earth. Asteroids, for instance, are a much more frequent concern. Just a few weeks ago a 150-foot-wide asteroid passed within 17,000 miles of us—closer than some communication satellites.
So what can be done about it? A number of motion pictures have explored this theme fictionally, the most notable of which, Armageddon, led box office sales in 1998. And there is, in fact, a NASA-sponsored Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University.
Researchers are offering an array of possible strategies. They say that if an incoming asteroid is detected early on, a missile could be dispatched to explode near enough to it—or to hit it directly—to deflect it out of its path and away from the Earth. Some suspect that to hit and explode it directly could break it up into countless smaller chunks that would still be dangerous to life on this planet.
It’s interesting that in such elaborate planning to avoid a direct, catastrophic hit on the earth, there is often, too, the intriguing idea that if it doesn’t wipe out humankind entirely, it would be quite an astronomical show!
Similarly, in the spiritual realm, we don’t always try to put a lot of distance between us and oncoming temptation, which is every bit as dangerous on a personal level. We think we can allow it to drift closer and closer without being actually struck by it.
Too often attempts to forestall temptation are only half-hearted. As someone once said, “Most people want to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch.” They cling to some values and behaviors that would actually encourage them to give in too easily. “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14).1
Much has been made by theologians over the reasons for the fall of Eve in the Garden of Eden. One of the first of these should be obvious. We are told that “Satan was not to follow [Adam and Eve] with continual temptations; he could have access to them only at the forbidden tree.”2 Yet, knowing that God had prohibited the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, why did Eve go anywhere near it? In a sense, Eve knew that an asteroid was headed in her direction, and, for some reason, she gravitated toward it.
In the epic poem Paradise Lost, the staunch 17th-century Puritan John Milton imagines a discussion between Adam and Eve as they make plans for the day’s gardening chores in sinless Eden. Eve offers the suggestion that they could accomplish more if they split up and worked in separate parts of the garden. Adam reminds her that they had been warned by angels of the danger that they would be approached by Satan. Eve reassures Adam that forewarned is forearmed. Finally, even with his misgivings, Adam accedes that “solitude sometimes is best society,” and Eve “betook her to the Groves.”
Eve took the very first step in a direction that led, ultimately, to a state in which she became so lost that God later had to come looking for her. It began with separation from Adam, and resulted in separation from her Creator.
Withstanding temptation is certainly no easy matter. Anyone truly serious about it will make a commitment to resist it completely. The very first step would seem rather obvious: “Just say No!” Instead, sometimes it’s, “Just say Maybe.” You’d think that someone who truly wanted to avoid sin would resist subtle suggestions right from the start.
King David’s experience with Bathsheba is a good example. If he’d been where he was supposed to be—on the battlefield with his troops—the sad story in 2 Samuel 11 wouldn’t have happened. But even if, as king, his rightful place at the moment was the palace, his initial reaction to the temptation was not instant avoidance. Instead of “Oops, excuse me!” when he happened to see the woman bathing, he sent someone to find out more about her.
It’s true that some temptation comes out of the blue—when it’s least expected. Being tempted isn’t, after all, a sin. Jesus Himself had to overcome it in the wilderness, and He was led there by the Holy Spirit because it was an important test that Jesus needed to face. But overcoming temptation is a lifelong battle.
“In the Christian warfare there is no release,” writes William Barclay. “Sometimes people grow worried because they think that they should reach a stage when they are beyond temptation, a stage at which the power of the tempter is forever broken. Jesus never reached that stage. From the beginning to the end of the day, he had to fight his battle; that is why he can help us to fight ours.”3
To which C. S. Lewis would add: “We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.”4
For all others, if temptation is coming unmistakably from Satan’s direction, there is no sense in taking the attitude that a miss is as good as a mile. Watching in fascination as it hurtles nearer and nearer is a deadly game to play. A decisive and immediate deflection strategy will always be the most effective.
1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this article are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible.
4. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1981), p. 120.