No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he also provides a way out so that you can stand up under it.
- I Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
SOMETIMES WE USE THIS VERSE to deny the power of evil, but by doing so we let evil reign. Interpreting the word “temptation" to mean circumstances or events, or crushing stress, rather than what it does mean—temptation to do wrong—we blind ourselves to people’s burdens too heavy to bear. Erroneously assured in our minds that God will not allow too much stress to accumulate in a neighbor’s life, we sit back and allow our neighbor to suffer more than he or she can withstand.
In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel that sparked the Civil War by exposing the evils of slavery, Tom watches a Christian woman kill herself in despair.
Mr. Haley is the slave trader. At one spot along the Mississippi River, while taking his “gang” south to sell, he leaves the steamboat to bring aboard a slave woman chirruping happily to her ten-month-old baby. She tells Tom she's on her down to Louisville to be hired out to work in the same tavern as her husband. Haley interrupts; he's bought her and is selling her South.
So instead of going to live with her husband, she'll never see him again. At Louisville, the distraught Lucy tucks her sleeping baby into a corner and runs to the front rails of the boat in hope of catching a last glimpse of a husband she’ll never again see. While her back is turned, Haley sells her baby for forty-five dollars to a man who slips away unseen.
Harriet Beecher Stowe pounces on the Northern reader for turning a blind eye to such evil. “The trader,” she wrote, “had arrived at that stage of Christian…perfection which has been recommended by some preachers…of the north…in which he had completely overcome every humane weakness and prejudice. His heart was exactly where yours, sir, and mine could be brought, with proper effort and cultivation. The wild look of anguish and utter despair that the woman cast upon him might have disturbed one less practiced; but he was used to it. He had seen that same look hundreds of times. You can get used to such things, too, my friend.…”
Tom tries to comfort Lucy, to tell her of a caring Jesus. But, says Stowe, “the ear was deaf with anguish.”
“O! what shall I do?” Lucy moans in the black of night. “O Lord! O good Lord, do help me!” At midnight Tom awakes, feels a stir of air, then a brush past his shoulder. In the silence of the night he hears the splash. When he looks, Lucy’s place on the deck is empty.
Today we don’t have slavery. We have refugees fleeing for their lives, children kidnapped from their parents at the border and housed in concentration camps. We have a whole new working poor in the world’s wealthiest country. We have sexual discrimination, gender bias, and whole cities where crime, violence, and despair are as common as safety, peace, and hope are to white, middle-class Americans.
But like the Northerners of 1852, and like Haley the slave trader, we’ve grown so used to the face of evil “out there, down there” that the anguish no longer means anything. Evil runs rampant, and people—even Christians like Lucy—kill themselves (or go crazy, or get sick, or live emotionally paralyzed lives) from the despair of it all.
Sometimes the burden is too great to bear, and like the Northerners we can’t rest in religious triteness because for others “the ear is deaf with anguish.” We need to wake up because NONE OF US LIVE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN ANYMORE.