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Brothers Karamazov: The Cardinal versus Jesus
It is the position of this website that the accounts of the "temptations" in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke—they are not in the Gospel of John—are apocryphal and probably based on some undiscovered Hebrew literature or parable. The disciples aren't portrayed as being present at the confrontation, and it is hard to imagine that Jesus came back and told them how he passed these excruciating tests.
At best, Jesus may have come back from an extended wilderness sojourn and confided in the disciples that he was sorely tempted while in agonized contemplation, and the accounts got embellished like so many others. Nevertheless, however inaccurate and invalid they are, they DO provide a foil for exposing some ultimate issues. Here Dostoevsky uses them in his acclaimed novel, and has the Grand Inquisitor Cardinal explaining to Jesus where he went wrong.
Temptation 1. Ostensibly Jesus was led into the wilderness by "the spirit" (whatever that means), where he fasted for 40 days. Famished, weak and on the edge of dying, he was confronted by Satan—the title Satan is used in the earliest Gospel and then changed to the Devil in the later ones—with the challenge that if he were the son of God, he would turn some stones to bread and save his own life, thus doing the will of God. Jesus refuses with the quotation that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by the word of God."
The Cardinal then presses his major thesis by claiming that almost all people do not have the courage or strength to use their volition or "free will" and faith at this level, and that this would be an impossible, unloving burden. He then claims that Jesus made a mistake, and should have produced the bread, thus identifying more with the people and not showing them all up by measuring up to an unreasonable standard and passing such a subtle though simple test. As in, how can you expect people who are dying of hunger to stand up and make such a ridiculous choice?
Temptation 2. The second temptation was to induce or force God into a demonstration of the value he placed in his son. Satan took Jesus to a temple pinnacle in Jerusalem and challenged him that if he were the messiah, by throwing himself off, the angels would take charge and bear him up, saving his life and thus showing his value to God. Jesus again declined with a quotation, "You shall not test the lord your God."
The Cardinal Inquisitor presses on with his theme that again Jesus made a mistake, and that people need a demonstration of this sort in order to have faith, and that Man NEEDS a transcendent-to-human-being son of God.
Temptation 3. The first two temptations were easy compared to the third. The first two were asking Jesus to do something unreasonable with only the retention of his life at stake. Who cares about the value of one's life to someone else or the sustenance of one's life if there is no enhancement, no way to triumph over paucity or dearth of fulfillment?
The gloves were now off because the third temptation was about power, control and fulfillment of all the natural and artificial needs and desires that humans have. More wealth, power, superiority, deference, romantic attention and sexual gratification than any man had ever had within reach. Satan "showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them", and offered it all to him if he acknowledged that he, Satan, and his ways, could grant this fulfillment and ultimately enhance his life. Jesus again refused with a quotation.
The Cardinal again presses his theme by claiming it was a mistake to not take the power, and how now that only left the church as the alternate in taking the power so that they could numb the people's angst over the burden of free will and provide for their mundane security.
We, of course, do not have to understand these tests or temptations in the same way that Dostoevsky understood them. In the first the simple logic would be that if God led you to the brink of dying, the burden should then be on Him−God−to do something to get you out of the predicament.
In the second is the seed of logic to discount the literal reality of this scenario ever having happened. If it is not legitimate for us to test God in arbitrary ways, it would not be legitimate for him, in the name of love, to test US in this way. Nobody in a relationship likes to be arbitrarily or purposely tested by the other.
In the third testing scenario the simple logic, promulgated by the IF-I-SEEK-US package, is that the temporal, mundane and limited fulfillment available in this world—even IF you had it ALL—IS NOT ENOUGH, and it would never ultimately satisfy. Given the opportunity in a reasonable way to really "have the all" that is spoken about so eloquently in the Gospel of Thomas, one would simply be foolish to opt for the lesser package. A no-brainer if you actually believe!