"Why? Why this? Why now? Why me?"
"Why" is the question we are most likely to ask when something goes wrong in our lives, usually something significant, painful, disappointing, hurtful, or downright evil. The "why" question is made seemingly more necessary when we read teaching like Jesus gives us in how to pray.
We have moved through the Lord's prayer over the last number of weeks, and found some incredibly inspiring, rich, and powerful insights from Jesus' teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. This week, we are focussed in on this clause in His teaching:
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." [Matthew 6:13]
What do we expect?
It seems Jesus is teaching us to ask the Lord to deliver us from evil. Full stop, end of sentence. This could lead to the expectation that those who trust the Lord should expect to never experience sickness, pain, suffering, or misadventure in this life. Is this what the Lord teaching us to expect?
Far from it. What is helpful is to understand the different types of approach to evil in Jesus' day, and then reflect on how Jesus Himself dealt with evil. But before we do that, we need to consider evil itself - how are we to think of evil? Is it real? Is it a thing that we have to concern ourselves with?
What is evil?
The first thing to say is simply this - Jesus specifically used this term in His teaching, and had something very real and specific in mind as He taught His disciples. As a result, we're talking about something real. What exactly this is will go a long way to helping us understand what we should expect from Jesus, and how we can respond to evil in the world as a result.
N T Wright puts it well for us:
"When human beings worship that which is not God, they give authority to forces of destruction and malevolence; and those forces gain a power, collectively, that has, down the centuries of Christian experience, caused wise people to personify it, to give it the name of Satan, the Accuser. ‘The Satan’, ‘the Evil One’, is not equal and opposite to God; but ‘he’, or ‘it’, is a potent force, opposed to God’s good creation, and particularly to the human beings whom God wishes to put in authority over his world. If all this were not so, the final petition in the Lord’s Prayer would be an unnecessary anti-climax." [The Lord and His Prayer, pp. 71–72]
In sum, evil is a potent and real force in the world opposed to God and His good creation, including humanity, and humans can wittingly and unwittingly partner with evil's forces - to our own detriment, and the detriment of God's good creation.
Any reasonable person who reads Wright's insights above, and believes them to be truthful, would then think - so how do we counter such a destructive force or be otherwise hapless?
This leads us to consider the three different types of responses to evil in Jesus' own day.
A Fourth Way
In Jesus' day, there were three types of response to the real and present evil in the world at the time:
Firstly, the Sadducees minimised evil and it's presence in the world. They were a movement in Jesus' day of largely chief priests and leading aristocrats. They were interested in maintaining their power and privilege, and so they were concerned to do what was necessary to sustain themselves and their political interests. As such, evil was relativized, minimized, depending on the interests and alliances that maintained power and privilege. We don't have to think hard to observe similar movements in our times.
Secondly, the Essenes wallowed in the realities of evil in the world. They were a group of Jews who retreated from mainstream Jewish life in a quasi-monastic existence. They believed that the majority culture was fundamentally corrupted, and that a distinct community had to be established to prepare the way for the Lord to return and restore a true, pure, and untainted Israelite nation. Thus, quite opposite to the Sadducees, they were overly convinced of the presence of corrupting evil in the world, and acted to distance themselves from it as a result. Again, there are plenty of people today who simply stick their heads in the sand, so to speak.
Thirdly, the Pharisees zealously fought against evil in real world conflict. They were another political movement passionately interested in manufacturing the conditions required by God in Torah to restore Israel. They were zealous for the pure practice of their Jewish faith and law, were zealous in converting others to their ways, and were prepared to take up arms in fighting for this as the national identity. Our times seem to contain no end of examples of such zealotry in response to our own present day evils.
Jesus does not teach us to prayerfully live into any of these responses. We are not to minimize, wallow in, or aggressively fight against evil in a violent or zealot sense. Instead, Jesus modelled in His own life the fourth way - the way that undergirds His teaching here, and that gives us insight into how we are to likewise pray and practice "deliver us from evil."
Jesus defeated "evil" in all its potency in and through the cross. Paul in Colossians 2:13-15 declares:
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." [Colossians 2:13–15]
The power of sin, and the powers behind sin in all their evil and cruel nuisance, have been cancelled, disarmed, and made a spectacle over in Jesus' triumphant cross.
Jesus faced the full resistances of evil in being misrepresented and fought against during His public life, being falsely accused and unjustly condemned to death by the cross at the end of His life, and ultimately surrendered His life in death upon the cross - all as struggle against, and in aims to defeat evil. His rising again on the third day declares the outcome of this struggle - wonderful defeat of evil at its worst. In short, Jesus has already prefigured and begun our deliverance from evil through His victorious death and resurrection. But lest we get too triumphant, Jesus' way of victory - in His life, death, and resurrection - is the model for our way of victory over the evil still present in our day.
Resist, struggle, in order to ultimately win
This means a few things for us, as we pray "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
We resist - Jesus defeat of evil by His cross and in resurrection calls us to boldly resist evil in the world. As He declared with true foresight at the last supper: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33] We have peace in this assurance - He has already overcome the world. It's powerful to note that Jesus spoke these words prior to His death and resurrection, such was His assurance of His impending victory. So as we pray "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" we are praying to be able to live:
"May the forces of destruction, of dehumanization, of anti-creation, of anti-redemption, be bound and gagged, that this good world of Yours not be sucked down into a lasting mess. May we be live in such a way as to be part of Your binding and gagging work through our efforts of love, service, and sacrifice. Deliver us from war, deliver us from human folly and the appalling accidents this can produce. Deliver us the evils of riches in excess, and poverty without redemption. Deliver us from arrogance, and pride and the terror of wanton self-interest. Amen."
Note here that asking God to "deliver us" is an appeal to Him to work on our behalf in His might - we are not doing this on our own steam or resources.
We struggle - Jesus words to His disciples also remind us that this life will not be without trouble for us. Jesus Himself warned His disciples: "A servant is not greater than his master.’ t If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also..." [John 15:20]. We are to be prepared to struggle with evil, head-on. Paul the Apostle would later declare we're in an active warfare: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." [Ephesians 6:12]. Paul himself experienced both this struggle, and the Lord's deliverance, during his life of service to the Lord: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us..." [2 Corinthians 1:8–10]. It makes sense that, if our Lord and King struggled with the realities of evil in His time in order to birth and bring for the Kingdom of God, that we will likewise struggle and fight in order to continue to bring forth His Kingdom in our times.
In order to ultimately win - Lest we find ourselves discouraged that loving and serving Jesus will involve struggle and battle, we can be assured that what we are bringing about will not end in futility, but ultimately in full and final victory. What Jesus has begun, and is working in and through us, will end in a final victory over all evil. A final deliverance from all evil. Such that evil shall become a distant memory for a fully restored and fully redeemed creation. The hope of eternal life is simply this. That one day soon:
"He [God] will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [Revelation 21:4–5]
So our answer to evil, to "why", is in the end, the answer of bold and faithful resistance, including readiness to suffer with and for Jesus and His Kingdom purpose, knowing that the resurrection of Jesus will not fail to be completed one day for all creation in total and final redemption.
And so we pray, and live, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Praying I'd live this with you all.
Written by Ps Rob.