As we near the end of the Lord’s prayer we come to a couple of phrases that have puzzled Christians for a while, and I believe have been frequently misunderstood. We say, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil (or the evil one.) Did Jesus really believe God might lead us into temptation? His brother James in his letter to the churches at the back of the New Testament said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” James 1: 13 – 14.
In fact, the language we have adopted over the years about being led into temptation, is better translated, “do not bring us to the time of trial” and it is important to pair these words with the request for deliverance from evil. Jesus knew there was darkness in the world brought about largely at the hands of people who give into their darker desires and inclinations. Jesus would certainly suffer at the hands of those who would serve their own self-interests, their selfish grasping for power and perhaps even a depraved lust for violence. He knew his disciples after him would fall victim to this same darkness when his church moved to carry on his mission of grace and compassion. So he told us to pray to our father for salvation in such times of trouble and for deliverance from the darkness.
New Testament scholar Tom Long says, the best way to understand this petition is to imagine “the congregation heading out the front door of the church to do God’s work in a storm-tossed world and whispering the prayer “Keep us safe our there O God. Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around, and bring us home at the end of this day even stronger in faith than when we go out.”
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