We return this week to our reflection on The Lord's Prayer, with the assistance of N.T. Wright and his book The Lord and His Prayer.
If you missed the previous weeks, follow the links below to catch up on the conversation:
Our Father in heaven
Your kingdom come
Give us this day
Forgive us our trespasses
Today we come to the phrase: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (following the NIV 2011).
Wright tells us that the word most often translated as “temptation” carries the meaning of “testing” or “tribulation.” To view this phrase as simply as request that God would keep us from the minor temptations that make up human life would, in Wright's estimation, be to trivialize the matter. Rather, Jesus' words proclaim the cry to avoid the trial of evil that will oppose Jesus and all who follow Him as they realize the Kingdom in this world. Yet Jesus knew that this encounter was unavoidable for him and for his followers, so he teaches us to ask the Father to protect us, to deliver us from this evil.
Therefore, says Wright, “we have to come to grips with the fact that Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples, but that when he prayed it himself the answer was 'No'. He put it together with an earlier part of the Lord's Prayer ('Thy will be done').When he held the two side by side, he found that God's will involved him in a unique vocation. He would be the one who was led to the Testing, who was not delivered from Evil.”
As his followers we, thankfully, do not have to endure the Testing as he did, because he passed through it for us. But this does not mean that Jesus' brothers and sisters, God's children, will not have to face the reality of evil in this world. “And we can pray that prayer,” says Wright, “with confidence precisely because Jesus has met that power and has defeated it once for all.”
“What, then,” asks Wright, “is evil, and how are we delivered from it?” He points to three fundamental errors in how we choose to understand evil. We can pretend that it doesn't exist at all, believing that sometimes people do bad things, but if we all try a bit harder it will all work out. Perhaps all we need is better education, or social support, or whatever you prefer. The second error would be to wallow in evil, to see it everywhere and in every situation. This approach sees a demon behind every bush. Evil is so powerful and pervasive that all we can do is try to retreat and build a safe, exclusive community with high walls to keep evil at bay. Finally, the third erroneous response turns to self-righteousness. This response acknowledges evil but sees us, the righteous ones, as the ones who can do battle with and overcome it.
If we were to omit this phrase from the Prayer, we would be guilty of the first error. If we made it the only significant part of the prayer, we would be guilty of the second. And if we see ourselves as the solution to the problem, the answer to the prayer, we would be guilty of the third.
Jesus didn't embrace any of these responses. He himself overcame evil as the true righteous one. But he didn't do say in spectacular battle, with guns blazing and and slick media campaign. “His way is to recognize the reality and power of evil, and to confront it with the reality and power of the kingdom-announcement. The result is Gethsemane and Calvary.”
Evil continues as a reality in our world. We must recognize and confront it, but not in our own strength or our own self-righteousness. “To pray 'deliver us from evil', or 'from the evil one', is to inhale the victory of the cross, and thereby to hold the line for another moment, another hour, another day, against the forces of destruction within ourselves and the world.” When we repeat this phrase we cry out to the Almighty God who has defeated evil through the resurrection of Jesus, asking God to strengthen, protect and preserve us in the on-going battle with this defeated evil. The war may be won but the battles continue and we need the strength of the conquering Savior to sustain us as we confront evil in its numerous forms. We cannot pretend it doesn't exist. We cannot give up in hopeless defeatism. Nor can we overcome it through our own efforts. But we can join our voices in asking God to preserve us and her own creation from the forces that continue to seek its destruction, that work against redemption and liberation of God's people.
When I understand this phrase in this way, I find it much more significant and powerful than simply asking God to keep me from the temptation of daily sin. Yes, it means that as well, but it means so much more than that. Jesus invites us to join him in the battle to bring his Kingdom to fulfillment.
How does this approach to these words help you in confronting evil in your world?