Temptation. Bonhoeffer asks us, "But how can the Bible say that God tempts man?" and "God tempts no one, says James." Yes, God temps us. No, God doesn't tempt us. Bonhoeffer rightly declares, "What does it all mean?" How do we respond to this YES and NO! Bonhoeffer's immense genius solves this mystery in Jesus Christ, who is the Rejected One and the Accepted One for us all in all. Here is his brilliant answer to this paradox: "But where the whole temptation of the flesh, all the wrath of God is obediently endured in Jesus Christ, there the temptation is conquered in Jesus Christ, there the Christian finds behind the God of wrath who tempts him the God of grace who tempts no one." Continuing in my series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's monumental book, Creation and Fall, Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, the following long quotation that is from the third part of his book on Temptation.
What does the Bible say about God when it makes him the author of temptation? That is the most difficult and final question. God tempts no one, says James. But the Bible also says that "God did prove Abraham" (Gen 22:1) , that Israel was tempted by God (2 Chron 32:31). David at the census was "made angry by the wrath of God" (2 Sam 24:1), "by Satan"- according to 1 Chron 21:1. Likewise in the New Testament the temptation of Christians is looked upon as the judgement of God (1 Pet 4:12,17) . What does it all mean? First, the Bible makes it clear that nothing can happen on earth without the will and permission of God. Satan also is in God's hands. He must-against his will-serve God. It is bue that Satan has power, but only where God allows it to him. There is consolation for the tempted believer. Satan had to ask permission from God for Job's temptation. He can do nothing on his own. Thus God must first abandon man in order that Satan may have opportunity for temptation-"God left Hezekiah to try him" (2 Chron 32:31). This is how we should understand everything that was said earlier about the abandonment of the tempted. God gives the tempted into Satan's hands. Second-the child's question: "Why doesn't God simply strike Satan dead?" demands an answer. We know that the same question can mean: Why must Christ be tempted, suffer and die? Why must Satan have such power over him? God gives Satan opportunity because of men's sin. Satan must execute the death of the sinner; for only if the sinner dies, can the righteous man live; only if the old man daily and wholly perishes, can the new man rise from the dead. While Satan thus employs himself, he serves God's purpose. "The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up" (1 Sam 2:6) . So must Satan unwillingly serve God's plan of redemption; with Satan rests death and sin, but with God life and righteousness. Satan does his work in three ways in temptation. He leads men to the knowledge of sin. He allows the flesh to suffer. He gives death to the sinner. 1. "God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart'' (2 Chron 32:31) . The heart of man is revealed in temptation. Man knows his sin, which without temptation he could never have known; for in temptation man knows on what he has set his heart. The coming to light of sin is the work of the accuser, who thereby thinks to have won the victory. But it is sin which is become manifest which can be known and therefore forgiven. Thus the mani festation of sin belongs to the salvation plan of God with man, and Satan must serve this plan. 2. In temptation Satan wins power over the believer as far as he is flesh. He torments him by enticement to lust, by the pains of privation, and by bodily and spiritual suffering of every kind. He robs him of everything he has and, at the same time, entices him to forbidden happiness. He drives him, like Job, into the abyss, into the darkness, in which the tempted one is only sustained by the grace of God which he does not perceive and feel, but which nevertheless holds him fast. So Satan appears to have won full power over the be liever, but this victory turns to complete defeat. For the mortification of the flesh is indeed the way to life in judge ment; and the tempted one, in being driven into a complete void and into defenselessness, is chiven by Satan directly into the very hands of God. Thus Christ recognizes at once in Satan's fury the gracious chastening of God (Heb 12:4ff.) , of the Father to his child; the gracious judgement of God which preserves mnn from the judgement of wrath. The hour of temptation, therefore, becomes the hour of greatest joy (James 1.2ff). 3. The last enemy is death. Death is in Satan's hands. The sinner dies. Death is the last temptation. But even here where m an loses everything, where hell reveals its terror, even here life has broken in upon the believer. Satnn loses his last power and his last right over the believer. We ask once more: Why does God give Satan opportunity for temp tation? First, in order finally to overcome Satan. Through getting his rights Satan is destroyed. As God punishes the godless man by allowing him to be godless, and allowing him his right and his freedom, and as the godless man perishes in this freedom of his (Rom 1.19ff), so God does not destroy Satan by an act of violence, but Satan must destroy himself. Second, God gives opportunity to Satan in order to bring believers to salvation. Only by knowledge of sin, by suffering and death, can the new man live. Third, the over coming of Satan and the salvation of believers is true and real in Jesus Christ alone. Satan plagues Jesus with all sins, all suffering and the death of mankind. But with that his power is at an end. He had taken everything from Jesus Christ and thereby delivered him to God alone. Thus we are led to the lmowledge from which we set out: Believers must learn to understand all their temptations as the temptation of Jesus Christ in them. In this way they will share in the victory. But how can the Bible say that God tempts man? It speaks of the wrath of God, of which Satan is the executor (cf. 2 Sam 24.1; 1 Chron 21:1) . The wrath of God lay upon Jesus Christ from the hour of the temptation. It shuck Jesus be cause of the sin of the flesh which he wore. And because the wrath of God found obedience, for the sake of sin, obedience even unto the righteous death of him who bore the sin of the whole world, the wrath was propitiated, the wrath of God had driven Jesus to the gracious God, the grace of God had overcome the wrath of God, the power of Satan was conquered. But where the whole temptation of the flesh, all the wrath of God is obediently endured in Jesus Christ, there the temptation is conquered in Jesus Christ, there the Christian finds behind the God of wrath who tempts him the God of grace who tempts no one. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, Temptation, pg111-114
Related: Creation and Fall, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, temptation