Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil.

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer we might wonder why God would lead us into temptation in the first place. This traditional wording for the Lord’s Prayer is rather unfortunate. When I rode my motorcycle here today I might have prayed “Lord, may I not be enticed by this beautiful weather to keep motorcycling instead of getting to work.” Or I might have prayed “Lord, may I not fall off.” Those are two very different prayers and both those ideas work for the Greek word for temptation. Most Bible scholars think the latter is in view, the idea of being tested, of facing trials and great difficulties.

As with the most of the Lord’s Prayer, we want to remember these requests are in the plural. It is not “Do not lead me, personally into testing, deliver me from evil,” but “do not lead us, as a people, into testing, deliver us from evil.” The people standing by Jesus as he taught may have had in mind the entire nation of God’s people. They could have considered the very real possibility of another national tragedy as the kind of testing they were praying to avoid.

God’s old covenant people were used to national tragedies. The Assyrians took out the Northern tribes some time before the Babylonians took the people of Judah into exile. These times of great trial, tribulation and testing happened because of the sin of God’s people. Now God’s covenant people were back in the promised land, as promised, but the Romans were also in the land as an occupying army. There was a very real danger of being led into a great and terrible time of testing again. In this context, the prayer might be understood “forgive us rather than lead us into tribulation by driving us into exile again, deliver us from the evil Romans.”

Jesus would go on to answer the prayer in quite a different way. In fact God’s old covenant people did experience great tragedy at the hands of the Romans with Jerusalem being destroyed along with the temple. Jesus, however, did something far greater than deal with the danger God’s convent people faced in losing their land to the Romans. He dealt with the danger we all face in losing life due to separation from God through sin.

Rather than deliverance from the Romans through victory over the Romans, it was deliverance from sin in a victory that even the Romans could share in. It was victory over and deliverance from evil itself. It was, and is, a victory open to all of us.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)

Before we think this means we will never face times of trial and testing, let us also consider the following:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials [the same word traditionally translated as “temptation” in the Lord’s prayer], so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV emphasis added)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials [the same word traditionally translated as “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer] of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4 (NIV emphasis added)

As these Scriptures make clear, we are not rescued from all suffering; we will face times of trouble and adversity. God does not send those troubles to destroy us. God uses those troubles in our lives to help us grow. His ultimate plan is to deliver us from evil and its consequences. God will answer the prayer. Even when the troubles before us threaten our lives, the day is coming when we will look back and say “God has delivered us from evil! God has taken care of us!”

Jesus taught us to pray “lead us not into great testing, but deliver us from evil.” As we pray that, let us thank the Lord our prayer is already answered in Christ.

(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The reflection alone can be seen here.)

Compelling Evil. How Suffering Points to a Loving God.

If the Bible is correct about God, that God is, and God is love, then why is the world in a mess? Why is there suffering? Yes, the Bible teaches that God is love, but the Bible also teaches that the world is, indeed, in a mess. First of, notice that humanity’s relationship with God is destroyed by sin. Adam and Eve were free to enjoy the Garden of Eden, except that there was one thing they ought not do:

“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT)

Of course they did that one thing and death became an eventuality. Sin separates us from God. However, the Bible tells us that human sin affects more than just humanity:

And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
Genesis 3:17 (NLT)

Adam is affected by his own sin, he will die, but so too is the ground affected. Sin messes up everything. We see this theme carried on in the very next story:

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. Genesis 4:6-8 (NLT emphasis added)

Sin was “eager to control” Cain, but Abel, and Adam, and Eve, were the ones to suffer. Before there was ever a death by the natural consequence of one’s own sin, there was violent death from another’s. Sin makes a mess of everything! It still does. Consider a particularly cruel and selfish man whose attitudes and actions make life miserable for his family. He spreads the misery into his workplace like a bad virus. He then either gets fired, or his business runs down. Soon the money runs out, and the house falls into ruin also. Sin messes everything up for everyone and everything, not just the person who sins.

The Bible teaches that sin even makes a mess of creation:

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse [as a result of the sin of humanity]. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. Romans 8:19-21 (NLT)

Creation is not waiting for God to wipe out humanity, so it can flourish on its own, but to rescue humanity. Brokenness in all creation is tied to human sinfulness. Restoration of creation is tied to the healing of humanity’s sin problem.

So if the Bible is accurate, then we should expect to live in a world where relationship with God is destroyed, where death is the expected and normal end, and where everything is messed up. This is the world we live in! There is suffering because there is evil & sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. It turns out that the world is exactly as we would expect if God is love. Therefore the presence of evil and suffering lends support to the Bible being accurate about the way things are.

But if God is love, would we not expect God to rescue us from evil and suffering? Indeed. The Bible teaches, from Genesis through to Revelation, that God is not content to leave humanity in a mess. God continued to work with humans. He did not just walk away.

God rescued a particular people from a messy situation, then gave them the law so that they would learn to not make a big mess of everything. For example, the Israelites were forbidden from practicing child-sacrifice. If they kept that law, there would be less evil and suffering in the world, for that practice was too common in that day. The law was given to lead God’s particular people out of evil so they could be an example to the other nations. However, they kept tripping on the way out.

All of this was part of a bigger plan for a bigger rescue. God sent his Son and Spirit to rescue us from sin. The two problems of sin are solved. First, we are personally, and individually, reconciled to God. Death, and separation from God is no longer our final end. Second, when it comes to sin making a mess of everything, we are enabled to be part of Spirit-led solutions rather than part of sin-wrecked problems.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

Just think of how much less suffering and evil there would be in the world if all lives were marked by these “fruit” of the Holy Spirit! As people participate in God’s great rescue, our dark world gets brighter.

God’s rescue is not limited to the possibility of individuals being reconciled to God and making less mess along the way. God will rescue all of creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Revelation 21:1-7 (NLT)

Christianity provides a reasonable accounting of why evil and suffering exist in a world created by a loving God. There is suffering because there is sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. Our sin messes up everything. God knows, and since God is love, He has a rescue underway. Christianity speaks of God’s revealed love solution to evil and suffering in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a future with God. The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not prove God does not exist or does not care. It confirms what the Bible teaches. People sin, God is, and God is love.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.)