Deliver Us from Evil
By Dr. Mickey Anders
There is a story about a man who worked the four to midnight shift. His walk home led him past a cemetery. One night he was in a particular hurry, and since the moon was full, he decided to take a short-cut through the cemetery. The shortcut took five minutes off his walk, so it became his regular path. But one black night, he had an unfortunate mishap. He fell into a freshly dug grave. He wasn’t hurt, but the hole was so deep he was unable to get out. He scrambled and pulled at the side and the edges but couldn’t escape. He began to yell, but nobody heard him. Resigned at last to simply wait for morning, he pulled his coat up around his neck and huddled in a corner to go to sleep. But after and hour or so, he was awakened by the noise of a falling body. A second unfortunate man had stumbled into this same large hole. Sleepily, the first arrival watched his new companion trying frantically to crawl out. After a few minutes, he felt obliged to comment, “You’ll never get out that way.” Well…, he did!
Today’s sermon is about falling into the hole of temptation and evil. In the Lord’s Prayer when we pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we do not only pray that we find a way out of the holes of life but that we find a way never to fall in them.
Here at the end, the Lord’s Prayer turns to a note of stark realism. Life is about more than lofty language about God’s kingdom, God’s will, daily bread, and even forgiveness. There is the reality of temptation and evil, call it what you will. On occasions like September 11, 2001, we come face to face with the reality of evil in our world. When we hear about a serial killer, or the recent mass shootings, we know there is evil to deal with. We see it even in the petty theft that the local policemen warn us about. And, on a smaller scale, we face the temptation to evil every day.
The traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Today I want to suggest that both phrases in this line could be translated more accurately. Biblical scholars would tell us that a more accurate translation would be “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from the evil one.”
But a new translation raises the question of whether we tamper with the traditional Lord’s Prayer or not. Most people prefer not to. Even feminist theologians who never refer to God as Father or he usually decide not to mess with the Lord’s Prayer and the traditional wording of “Our Father.”
Have you noticed that we have tampered with the Lord’s Prayer? When you visit a new church that says the Lord’s Prayer, you have to figure out if they are “trespassers” or “debtors.” We are neither for we have blended Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer to say, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” We are sinners.
But most people are not prepared to tamper with the Lord’s Prayer. They don’t even want to substitute “you” and “yours” for “thy” and “thine.” And they insist on keeping the archaic “art.” So I suspect we will not soon turn to using the new translation, “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from the evil one.”
The beginning phrase “Bring us not into temptation” has created problems for people for two-thousand years. Does this mean that God is the one who leads us into temptation? Many of us have a real problem with that theological idea. It seems to fly in the face of the main premise about God – that God is good. If God is good, then God should not be the one tempting us to do evil. Surely there is something wrong with the wording of this phrase.
The phrase was confusing enough that before the New Testament was even finished James felt it important to say, perhaps with this issue in mind, ” Let no man say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).
I think the most powerful argument against the traditional wording is that God is not the one who leads us into temptation. Traditionally that role belongs to Satan. The book of James makes it clear that God may test us, but God doesn’t tempt us. I think we should not include words in our prayer that we don’t really mean.
God tested Abraham; God tested Job; and I think it is safe to say that God tests us. But one of the difficulties of life is knowing what is a test and what is a temptation. As a practical matter, I’m not sure we can always know the difference.
Picture ourselves trying make a big decision in life, perhaps for a job change. We can rightly ask ourselves if we are just listening to our own selfish desires for a higher paying job, if we are being tempted by the devil to make a change which would ultimately be the worse for us and our family, or if we are being led by God to a position where we will be greatly blessed by God. Are we being tempted, tested, called, selfish, ambitious, or wise? It’s hard to know.
Sometimes we should respond as Jesus once did by saying, “Satan, get thee behind me.” But then we know that Abraham was tempted to slay Isaac as an offering. So we find ourselves wondering if this is a test or a temptation.
If it is a temptation, we hope to resist rather than yield. If it is a test, we hope to pass the test rather than fail it. Either way, at our best, we say, “No” to the evil choices.
1 Corinthians 10: 13 says, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
A second option for translating this part of the prayer was offered by some ancient Latin manuscripts which translated this petition, “Do not permit us to be led into temptation.” This is another attractive option.
The classic Biblical example God’s permission is the story of Job. God obviously gave permission for Satan to wreak havoc on Job’s life as a test to see how much faith he had.
People often ask, “Why did God do this? Why did God take the life of a teenage girl in an automobile accident? Did God take the lives of all those people on September 11 in order to teach our country a lesson?”
Some people are not hesitant to claim that God causes such evil events to happen, but I am more comfortable saying that God “permitted” such evil deeds to happen. God did not cause them.
I prefer to ask, “Why would God permit this to happen?” And my answer is, “Freedom.” Or more accurately, “Freedom and the nature of evil.”
God has placed freedom in the fabric of the universe, a freedom which allows the terrible and the wonderful to happen. If freedom has any meaning at all, then humans are free to make bad decisions. A teenage girl makes a bad decision while speeding down a curvy mountain road, and she is killed in the resulting crash. God didn’t cause it, but God permitted it long ago when God decided to give people the freedom to make their own driving decisions. Terrorists make the decision to crash planes into the World Trade Center. God didn’t cause it, but God permitted it long ago when God gave humans the freedom to even take other human lives.
Some Christians claim they do not believe in chance. That phrase is far too predestinarian for me. I fall back on Ecclesiastes 9:11 which says, “Time and chance happen to them all.” God does not cause all things. Some things just happen by chance, and God permits it.
The next part of this week’s petition says, “Deliver us from the evil one.”
Some modern people are uncomfortable with the personification of evil. Some people don’t believe in Satan at all; they prefer to say that Satan is just a metaphor for the nature of evil within us all. Others look for a literal demon or devil behind every bush. Martin Luther once threw an inkwell across the room attempting to hit the Devil.
Ephesians 6:11 almost defines evil for us when Paul writes, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Paul then expounds on this theme by saying, “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Regardless of our theology of Satan, we all experience evil just as the Bible describes it. Evil comes to us in a very personal way. Luke ends his description of the temptations of Jesus with these words, “When the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him until another time” (Luke 4:13). That’s the way we experience temptation too.
1 Peter 5:8-9 says, ” Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith…” The point of the passage is that we can resist evil. James 4:7 says, “Be subject therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
As Ephesians says, we need to protect ourselves with the armor of God the belt of truth, shoes of peace, the helmet of salvation, “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And he says in verse 16, “Above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.”
We know that the evil one is an equal-opportunity seducer who waits until the right moment of vulnerability to attack. To go back to my original illustration, we need pray for forgiveness when we have fallen into the hole of temptation. God will help us out. But the Lord’s Prayer teaches us not to fall into the hole in the first place. “Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Or more accurately as we now know, “Save us in the time of trial; deliver us from the evil one.”
The Lord’s Prayer ends with one last translation difficulty. Perhaps you noticed when I read the text from the New Revised Standard Version that it left off the traditional last line—“For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.” The simple fact is that the most ancient manuscripts leave that line out. But once again, we will most likely stay with the traditional version because it does add a magnificent and appropriately worshipful doxology. This last tribute reminds us of the wonder of God. For the Kingdom does belong to God. God is ultimately sovereign over all things. The power belongs to God, including the power to bring this world to a final consummation and the power to give us the strength for our daily walk with God. The honor and the glory belong to God, and our lives are to magnify God for granting our requests.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2009 Mickey Anders. Used by permission.