The Temptation of George Bailey
In the Christmas Classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, the story’s protagonist, George Bailey, begins the film with ambitious dreams of leaving the small town of Bedford Falls, becoming an architect, and seeing the world. In fact, he’s so infatuated with travel, at one point George says, “Do you know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”
If you’ve seen the film, you know George never gets to travel the way he hoped. Life happens: his father dies, the family’s struggling business needs him, and his brother gets a great career opportunity out of town. Despite all that, there’s an interesting moment in the story where George receives an offer to travel, see the world, the works – but it comes from a very unlikely source.
Henry F. Potter owns just about everything in Bedford Falls, including the buses, the bank, and Potter’s Field – his rental community of poorly built, over-priced shacks. Potter has longed for years to eliminate his only competition in the local housing market – George’s family business, the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. Frustrated by the Baileys’ continual efforts to provide safe and affordable homes, Potter devises a devious plot to destroy his opponent from within, preying on George’s deepest longing – to travel and see the world. Potter invites George into his office and makes him a job offer that would increase his salary ten times over and entices him with businesses trips to New York and Europe – all if he surrenders the Building and Loan.
Notice how Potter abandons the traditional approach of defeating the Baileys in the business world and opts to entice George on a personal level, using his own desires against him. Isn’t this the way Satan works to deceive us? James tells us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Consider your own experience: does the enemy continually tempt you with something you don’t desire? No, we’re usually tempted by something we want, something that’s close to our heart, just as Potter tempted George Bailey with something he’d always hoped for.
What godly desires are you hoping for? Unfortunately, as long as we live on this side of heaven, Satan will likely oppose and attack these pure desires. George could’ve had his jet-setting lifestyle, but only by selling out to the corrupt Potter. The enemy tempts us to satisfy our desires in sinful ways: the desire for a loving relationship can be perverted by adultery and lust; our longing for a meaningful career can be twisted by turning our job into an idol; even our efforts to be good people can be tainted by a proud, haughty spirit. The enemy of our souls seems to have a sinful, God-opposing distortion for every good desire, yet it’s still attractive enough to catch our eye. The Apostle Paul states so boldly, “…for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
Yet, because of Christ Jesus, we can defeat these cunning assaults. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 6:16, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” When the evil one offers a sinful alternative to acquire what you really want, have faith that boldly says, “No! Romans 8:32 says God didn’t even spare His own Son for me! Surely, He will grant this desire of my heart – and I won’t have to commit a single sin to get it!”
In the movie, George Bailey came awfully close to signing the deal with Potter, but at the last minute he found his courage, refused, and even called the conniving old man a “scurvy little spider.” This is what we can and should do when we compare the sweetness of everything God offers to the dark, disappointing deals of the devil. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
“I know no other way to triumph over sin long-term than to gain a distaste for it because of a superior satisfaction in God.” – John Piper