Empty God, in the desert

Did you know, Lord, that you could feel this – emptied, depleted in the wilderness?

Does the voice of the tempter sound just like your own, insisting, if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. Do you stretch a hand toward them, trembling, wondering if you can fill yourself and end this hollow torture?

Do you remember that other voice, booming as you rose from the glistening Jordan, skin dripping wet, when the Spirit descended dove-like upon you, and your Father claimed you as his own?

Then that same Spirit drove you into the desert; you wandered forty days and nights. Did you know this world you gave life to could blister your feet and turn a blind eye, deaf to all your needs? Can you hear your Father in these dry stones, or do you perceive only silent, cloudless sky?

The desert breaks with visions of the holy city, the pinnacle of the temple, and if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down—the Lord will command his angels concerning you; on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone; do you believe?

Or can you see your body falling, falling down and dashing bloody against the rocks, and do you know that this is just a taste of the coming day when you will spread your arms across cruel wood, gasp and find no air to breathe, scream with all that is left inside you – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? – and finally let blood give way to dark.

Why not take the kingdoms now, in all their splendor; they are yours to claim, are they not, o worthy king?

But you will not.

For the Lord alone is to be worshiped; you will not bow to this satan. Equality is not for you to grasp.

One deep breath, and you embrace the silent, lonely desert. Let die the visions of majesty and power, the scent of warm bread, the hope of cosmic comfort. You open your eyes to harsh, cracked earth and inhabit your own weary body.

You are Son of God and Son of Man, cells of dust entwined with glory. You will not turn away.


Usually I read the story of Jesus in the wilderness as an excuse for him to flex his extreme godliness muscles. But then it starts to seem kind of ridiculous and show-offy. For the story to actually mean anything, the temptation has to be real. Something has to be at stake. So I wanted to write about Jesus, not laughing at how dumb the devil is, but coming to terms with his humanity and letting go of what he could have had as God.

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