The saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s an interesting cliché. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how true it is.
I noticed this as I was reading Genesis—the story of Adam and Eve being tempted in the Garden of Eden, in particular. We all know the story: God creates man and woman for each other. God gives them instructions. There is only one thing they aren’t allowed to do: don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s it. Everything else (as far as they knew) was all good. Why did He give them that instruction? That’s an entry for another day. For my present purposes, let’s just agree on this: Adam and Eve needed an opportunity to choose; if there was no way for them to sin, then their “decision” to follow God (an offer everyone is entitled to accept, or reject) would have been essentially involuntary. And since God is not in the business of creating robots, He gave them an opportunity to choose not to sin.
So there they were, in paradise, in perfect relationship with God and each other. Then, here comes Satan. One might wonder (if we didn’t already know the story), what could he possibly come up with to convince Adam and Eve to disobey God? How could he lure them away from paradise? There was only one thing they couldn’t do. And that one thing didn’t seem all that special. One tree they couldn’t eat from out of all the others. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much.
I’ve heard sermons on this story many times. Often teachers focus on Satan’s appeal to their pride. He appeals to their desire to be like God, a temptation Satan knows a lot about—after all, that’s what got him in trouble. I agree. Adam and Eve were prideful, placing their desires above God. And how absurd the desire was! God had given them everything, well except one thing. Even with everything they had, all they could think about was that one thing they couldn’t have. Sound familiar? How often do we have so much going for us, yet we think, “If I could only have this.” But I digress.
I don’t want to focus on the prideful nature of their desire. I want to focus on the desire itself. Ultimately, they were convinced because they were told they would be like God. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? Aren’t we supposed to desire to be more like God? So at its root, there was some nobility in their intentions. Satan convinced them to pursue a good intention the wrong way. And he’s been using the same trick ever since.
Think about some of the times you’ve sinned. Now think about whether, at the root of that sin, there might be a kernel of truth, a hint of some noble intention that, by the time you got to the sinning part, had been perverted beyond recognition. Got an example, yet? I bet you don’t have to think too long.
So now what? How do we guard ourselves against this? If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re on your way because the first thing you’ll have to do is be on the lookout for the trap. The second thing you might do is take a moment to be thankful for the noble intention, whatever it may be: a desire to get closer to God, a desire for an intimate relationship with another person, a desire to make a difference in someone else’s life. After you recognize the good of the situation, you’ll want to pray for help. Ask God to help you avoid walking down the road to perversion. You want to keep the noble intention, but shake the temptation to sin.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well so did Adam and Eve’s instructions, and we all know how that story ended. I admit all of this is easier said than done. But God never said we have to do it alone. Seek God for help. Find an accountability partner. Guard you mind and heart fervently with the Word and with prayer. And free yourself to enjoy all the good God has given you, just as he gave our ancestors at the beginning of mankind.