I am not equipped to school anyone on theology, but I simply wish to share my thoughts and reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, a matter that my respected colleague George Davis raised a couple weeks ago in the Daily Gleaner; a matter that I believe is relevant at a time when individually and collectively some of us turn to a higher strength in order to come to grips with the ills in our land and in our world and in so doing not yield to evil temptations.
Based on my personal conviction that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the Son of God and whom I have made my Lord and Saviour, I have an admitted decided bias to take all that He says as gospel; as truth, including the Lord’s Prayer. That however doesn’t preclude me from having an intellectual discussion on matters of scripture or faith, except that when an intellectually acceptable answer or conclusion cannot be found, I am able to peacefully rest in something greater – a spiritual assurance of God’s sovereignty and goodness, since after all, we come to faith not by merely scientifically interrogating scripture or philosophy, but by an exercise that is far less demanding of intellectual rigour or mental ability. It requires belief and belief doesn’t make a lot of room for debate or intellectual interrogation. It is basic yet powerful.
Saul in the New Testament was well schooled in Scripture and philosophy but it wasn’t his erudition that brought Him to faith in the Christ that espoused the Lord’s Prayer, but rather an encounter with Him on the fateful road to Damascus. Thereafter he counted all he knew before as nothing compared to the knowledge of Christ.
That does not mean that we must not use our minds to engage with the gospel. Instead it suggests that what our minds can conclude and process is not necessarily the highest truth. That is why it can be frustrating to have a debate of sorts with Christians. Nevertheless I do believe some of us are ungracious and poor representatives of Christ, but truth be told, an intellectual discussion with even the greatest amongst us may not result in an intellectually acceptable perspective. (except of course, if you are the extremely knowledgeable but gracious Clinton Chisholm but I digress).
Now to the matter of the line in the Lord’s Prayer to which George expressed some concern.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”
To me, that line in the Lord’s Prayer is largely about recognizing the sovereignty of God over good and evil and the weakness of mankind in comparison. It recognizes that there are greater forces at play than what we can immediately see or understand. But truth be told, we have to look at the whole prayer to get the overall sense of the dynamics. Let’s start at the beginning.
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…”
When we say “Our Father,” we are in fact speaking in the context of us being the children and God being the parent. In this line also, we begin the act of reverence and worship when we say Hallowed be thy name. In other words, God is the greatest and is to be honoured.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”
Here we see that earth is not the only dimension and as His children / creation we want to see God’s rule on earth. Intuitively we are taking a side; we are siding with the Almighty God and are declaring that His rule must be done on earth; in our reality as it is done in heaven. This declaration is based on faith and truth.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
We are asking God to meet our physical needs; to provide for our sustenance….unlike the two requests before which were spiritual.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”
This request has much to do with how we operate in the community. Here we are allowing our relationship and interaction with God to affect how we treat others. So we are asking God to forgive us, even as we forgive others. This is a conditional type of transaction. And it’s the only one of its kind in the prayer. The request for God to forgive us is dependent on us forgiving others. I believe it speaks to God’s interest in us living well with others and showing the grace we receive from him to others. It also speaks to authenticity in the sense that you are being a channel of grace.
So up to this point, the prayer acknowledges God as our Father; suggests that He is sovereign and holy, rules a Kingdom in heaven and calls for us to desire His will in earth. The prayer also encourages us to look to our Father figure God to provide food and for Him to pardon us when we do wrong; even as He expects us to mirror Him and do the same. So through and through we see a relationship with a Heavenly Father who (like a parent) has authority over us, provides for us and pardons us when we do wrong.
And now we come to the line that George referenced in his column and his concern for testing of man’s strength and talents.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
This takes us to another element of God’s character as ‘parent.’ Here we see God as protector. But before we get into protection and the details of that line, let’s talk about temptation.
1 Corinthians 10:13 states that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
Temptation has nothing to do with exploring the depths of our talent and strength.
In fact, the Lord expects us to use our talents (whether it be athletic, artistic, intellectual or otherwise) in service to humanity, fulfillment of our potential and bring glory to His name.
The temptation that the Lord refers to in the Lord’s Prayer is the temptation to sin. Sin is not a word we like to use in modern culture. We prefer shortcomings, challenges, weaknesses, but not sin. Sin is too dire, too biblical, too much of a thing to be judged. But again I digress.
From the beginning (if you believe scripture) sin has been the main challenge for mankind and the main issue at stake in a relationship with God. Adam and Eve yielded to sin. So did countless other heroes of Christian faith. And so asking the Lord not to lead us into temptation to sin is perhaps the most fundamental enduring cry of the believer.
And then there is the other part – but deliver us from evil. This part is asking the Lord to shield us from evil; not to shield us from the opportunity to test our talents or skills, not at all, but to shield us from something more sinister; to shield us from the enemy of our souls. Now, I am sure, I am beginning to sound too Christian, or too spiritual for some people’s appetites, but we are after all discussing a spiritual thing.
This line – but deliver us from evil – also reveals some other elements of what we believe. Do we believe in good and evil? Most people believe in God, but do we also believe that there is an evil force? Christians who subscribe to the Bible do. And so this petition to ask the Lord to deliver us from evil is asking Him to help us, as a loving parent (Our Father), withstand the evil of the day, that so many have succumbed to.
So again – this line is all about a request for a Father to protect His children.
The other part of verse 13 says:
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
This seems to be the why part, why should we see God as sovereign and holy and why should God provide for us, pardon us and protect us? Why should God our Father do that? Or why can He do that? In this last line we learn that it because He is the ruler of the kingdom and our provision, pardon and protection are within His power and for His glory. Amen!
This gives Christians great joy and peace. That is part of why we so often opt to recite it at special gatherings and in meditation. Mixed with genuine faith, this prayer is special to a child of God engaging with a loving sovereign Heavenly Parent.
Shelly-Ann Harris is the Editorial Director of Family and Faith Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @harrisshellyann