“On re-reading this book ten years after I wrote it, I find its chief faults to be those two which I myself least easily forgive in the books of other men: needless obscurity, and uncharitable temper.” This was how C.S. Lewis began the afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, his first novel following his conversion. Although the book is challenging and often difficult to understand, there is a scene in the story that is a vivid description of temptation. Before going to the passage describing temptation, here is how the subject of temptation is handled in Scripture:
In the Bible there are two different, but effective examples of responding to temptation. In Genesis chapter 39, Joseph runs out of the house when his master’s wife makes advances on him. He left the source of temptation as quickly as possible. But sometimes escape seems impossible and the temptation lingers. In those situations, the Gospels present us with a scene where Jesus responds to the ongoing temptation by quoting Scripture (Luke 4). As Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” while James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” When it comes to temptation, there is always a way out. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1st Corinthians 10:13.
Here is how C.S. Lewis described the feeling of temptation from his story, The Pilgrim’s Regress:
They resumed their journey, John lagged a bit. I dreamed that the witch came to him walking softly in the marshy ground by the roadside and holding out the cup to him also: when he went faster she kept pace with him.
"I will not deceive you," she said. "You see there is no pretence. I am not trying to make you believe that this cup will take you to your Island. I am not saying it will quench your thirst for long. But taste it, none the less, for you are very thirsty."
But John walked forward in silence.
"It is true," said the witch, "that you can never tell when you have reached the point beyond which there is no return. But that cuts both ways. If you can never be certain that one more taste is safe, neither can you be certain that one more taste is fatal. But you can be certain that you are terribly thirsty."
But John continued as before.
"At least" said the witch, "have one more taste of it, before you abandon it for ever. This is a bad moment to choose resistance, when you are tired and miserable and have already listened to me too long. Taste this once, and I will leave you. I do not promise never to come back: but perhaps when I come again you will be strong and happy and well able to resist me -- not as you are now."
And John continued as before.
"Come," said the witch. "You are only wasting time. You know you will give in, in the end. Look ahead at the hard road and the grey sky. What other pleasure is there in sight?"
So she accompanied him for a long way, till the weariness of her importunity tempted him far more than any positive desire. But he forced his mind to other things and kept himself occupied for a mile or so by making the following verse….
When Lilith means to draw me
Within her secret bower,
She does not overawe me
With beauty's pomp and power
Nor, with angelic grace
Of courtesy, and the pace
Of gliding ships, come veiled at evening hour.
Eager, unmasked, she lingers
Heart-sick and hunger sore
With hot, dry, jewelled fingers
Stretched out, beside her door,
Offering with gnawing haste
Her cup, whereof who taste,
(She promises no better) thirst far more.
What moves me, then, to drink it?
--Her spells, which all around
So change the land, we think it
A great waste where a sound
Of wind like the tales twice told
Blusters, and cloud is rolled
Always above yet no rain falls to the ground.
Across drab iteration
Of bare hills, line on line
The long road's sinuation
Leads on. The witch's wine,
Though promising nothing, seems
In that land of no streams,
To promise the best -- the unrelished anodyne.
And by the time he had reached the word anodyne the witch was gone.