by Robert Jacobs
On a cool night in September 1634, a young twenty-six-year-old nervously waited as his art was, for the first time, being presented to the public. A recent masters graduate of Christ College Cambridge, this rising star—John Milton—had been asked to write a masque (a short play like drama performed for royalty or high-ranking government officials) for the investiture of a new Lord President of Wales. Milton, never one to pull punches, decided to make the topic of his mask the demonic assault of the new Lord President’s daughter, Allice Edgerton.
While the plot appears to be social suicide for this aspiring artist, Milton writes the masque so that the fourteen-year-old girl overcomes her demonic adversary. After being kidnaped by the demon Comus and bound to a chair so that she can be tempted to sin, Alice declares that she will never give in to the demon’s ploys, sharply replying to his temptations, “Fool do not boast, thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind with all thy charms.” Through her determination, and help from a divine messenger, Alice eventually escapes her captor and makes her way back home to her family.
So, what does any of this have to do with us? We live in the 21st century, not the 17th century. We are not being dragged off to dark castles by demons. And we are not (well most of us) British nobility.
The lines that Milton wrote for Alice reveal an important biblical truth about temptation. Even though Alice was assaulted and tempted through no fault of her own, she believes that reactions to such temptations are controlled by her own will. In other words, she is the one truly in control of the situation. No matter how much Comus tempts or threatens her, she is the one who decides what she will and will not do. And she has decided to not engage in sin.
You see, I often hear people saying something completely different, blaming others for their sin. Sometimes they blame demonic temptation, explaining that they were under intense attack which excuses their choices. Other times, I hear people blame God, arguing that he has strong-armed them into obedience for too long and they simply have to break free from his oppressive rules.
The reality, though, is that the ball is in our court when it comes to sin. Joshua articulates this truth when he declares to the people of Israel, “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24: 15). God is not forcing us into obedience, nor are temptations irresistible. We, just like Alice and the people of Israel, decide what we will and will not do.
But before you lose all hope, there is something you should know about Joshua himself. The Hebrew name Joshua (Yeshua) means “God saves.” Incidentally, the name we translate as “Jesus” in English is the Hebrew name Yeshua (yes, Joshua and Jesus actually have the same name). Thus, the command “choose this day whom you will serve” is spoken by a man whose name means God saves, the same name that an angel will command Mary to give to the savior of the world.
When we choose who we will serve—God our ourselves—there is a promise associated with that choice. In choosing God over our momentary desires, we access an abundance that can only be experienced by being in a relationship with God. The question for us, actually the same question that has been asked by all of humanity, is will we choose to follow God or our fleeting desires. You must answer this question for yourself. No one can force your hand. Who will you serve?