And lead us not into temptation…
The full line of the prayer is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
“Leading us not into temptation” doesn’t imply that God would ever do this. The sense is “keep us from succumbing to temptation.” The word for “temptation” can also mean “testing,” and the two are interrelated. “Every enticement to sin tests faith, and every test of faith holds an enticement to sin,” says Eugene Peterson. What I think he means is that temptation carries with it a chance to either grow in our trust of God or diminish it. And, every time our faith is tested, for example, with a great loss or a great gain, we can choose to see God in it or miss Him.
And then there is this promise of God never tempting us. James 1:12-15 says, “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
This prayer is a prayer about good things. Contrary to the way we normally read this prayer, Jesus wants us to see that while we need to be forgiven of our sins/debts in the preceding line, we also need deliverance from the good things in life that tempt us. Eugene Peterson once again says, “Temptation and evil almost always appear disguised as good and beautiful. For the most part, they catch us off guard, take us by surprise.”
Jesus was tempted in the desert to do three things because He is the Son of God (notice how Satan says “If you are the Son of God…”). Jesus refuses to do the “good” things Satan asks of Him. So even though we have good things to do, it does not prevent us from giving in to temptation. We should not be surprised that evil finds its way into people in positions of power in the church people in places of power in business who could do good in our world, in families who are supposed to show love and affection. Peterson writes, “Far more evil takes root in the places where goodness abounds than in desperate slums and the criminal underworld. Why should that surprise us? It got its start, after all, in Eden.”
This prayer requires us to discern good from evil. If the first half of this line of the prayer really is about good things, and the last half about evil things, then we must discern between them. You cannot pray “deliver us from evil” if you don’t know that evil exists. Just as we may be surprised to find that it is the good things of life that ensnare us, some of us have long forgotten how to pay attention to the evil in our world today. We ignore it, joke about it, or even celebrate at at Halloween. When we pray this prayer, we will be faced head on with more and more circumstances where evil rears its ugly head. We will not be anesthetized to the evil around us, but will rather be keenly aware of the systems and powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.
This prayer calls us to recognize God’s victory over evil. N.T. Wright says, “Where human beings turn from idolatry and worship the God they see revealed on Calvary, they are turning from darkness to light, from the Strong Man to the one who has bound the Strong Man. To pray ‘deliver us from evil,’ or ‘from the evil one’ is to inhale the victory of the cross….”
We could almost say “Amen” there, but there is still one more phrase of the Lord’s Prayer.