Answering George Davis’ prayer
IREAD George Davis’ very well-constructed questioning of a segment of The Lord’s Prayer which was printed in The Gleaner of Wednesday, November 2, 2016. In it, you specifically targeted, what you divined, were inconsistencies in the petition:
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And so you wrote: “What!? How then will you know how strong you are? How will you know what aspects of your training need to be tweaked to make you a better athlete? Why invest so much in faith building, walking hand in hand with God, and then turn around and pray to God, asking him not test that faith? Nonsense! I believe that it makes more sense to pray, asking God to fortify your faith during the various periods of temptations or tests, so you can emerge unscathed. Anything else is hard to stomach.”
He challenged the Christian community to explain to him, “a man seeking answers to perplexing questions”.
I write, then, as a part of the Christian community, to say how refreshing it is to witness one of our leading young journalists publicly agonising over a deep theological question. For, in recent times, as in the case with our neighbours up north, it would appear that the influence of secular humanity has captured the hearts and minds of our brightest and our best.
And so, I am particularly encouraged when, at a moment in our history, a nation is struggling with #NicholasFrancis and #MarchPenFire and #X6murdertrial, a Young Turk is searching and seeking to understand better at least one aspect of the prayer of all prayers.
Fortuitously, or by divine appointment, I was privileged recently to deliver a public lecture on ‘Healthy Church, Healthy Nation’. And during the process, I spent some time on the important issue of prayer.
In preparation for that segment, I returned to a book I had read on prayer, by the Rev Timothy Keller, the author of the New York Times best-seller The Reason for God, and the pastor of The Presbyterian Redeemer Church in New York City.
Drawing from the writings of three famous theologians, Martin Luther – the great reformer, John Calvin – another of the reformers, and Bishop Augustine of Hippo – whose influence on Western civilisation and the Church is legendary, Stott wrote this about your vexing question:
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
In this petition, Augustine makes an important distinction: The prayer is not that we should not be tempted, but that we should not be brought (or led) into temptation.
Temptation, in the sense of us being tried and tested, is not only inevitable but desirable (which, in summary, is the gravamen of your argument). The Bible talks of suffering and difficulty as a furnace in which many impurities of the soul are ‘burnt off’ and we come to greater self-knowledge, humility, durability, faith and love.
However, to “enter into temptation”, as Jesus termed it (Matthew 26:41), is to entertain and consider the prospect of giving in to sin.
And Calvin places a focus on two categories of temptations:
Poverty, disgrace, contemporary and afflictions, which tempt us to despair, to lose all hope and to become angrily estranged from God.
Riches, power, and honours, which tempt us into the sin that we do not need God.
Both prosperity and adversity, then, are sore tests, and each one brings its own set of enticement away from trusting in God and towards centring our lives on ourselves and on ‘inordinate desires’ for other things.
And which desire for ‘other things’, George, I would suggest, goes to the heart of why #NicholasFrancis died. As the murderer had this deep desire for ‘other people’s things’, and was quite prepared to kill for it. So your public reflection and challenge is a timely one indeed. Which then leads us into: Deliver us from evil Calvin combined this phrase with ‘lead us not into temptation’ ... but Luther and Augustine treated it as a separate seventh petition. And can also be translated “deliver us from the evil one”; that is, the devil.
Luther writes that this petition is “directed against specific evils that emanate from the devil’s kingdom ... poverty, dishonour, death.” In short, everything that threatens our bodily welfare. Augustine indicates that while the sixth petition is for protection from the remaining evil inside us, this seventh petition is for protection from evil outside us, from malignant forces in the world, especially our enemies who wish to do us harm.
So, to you, George, et al, all who may have had similar reservations
about the logic and theological correctness of this aspect of the Lord’s Prayer, I offer two thoughts:
1. Keller reveals in his New York Times best-selling book, The Reason for God, that his church grew to a now 5,000-strong congregation, in part, because after church, he spent time listening to, and answering, questions from folks with enquiring minds like yours, and especially the sceptical minds of others.
2. As a nation, we all need to begin to pray this aspect, and all others, of our Lord’s Prayer, with conviction and with an expectation of an answer.
For yesterday, it was Jamaica College’s #NicholasFrancis, but today, it was students from Haile Selassie and Camperdown. And God alone knows where will the evil spread tomorrow and the next day. For evil abounds, both within and without.
That’s what the Bible teaches. The same book that gave us, inter alia, the Lord’s Prayer.
And that’s why Christ died – to defeat evil, and grant new and unending life to those who seek and trust and believe in His free gift of salvation. Which is what, in the broadest sense of the word, Jamaica and, indeed, our neighbours to the north need. Desperately!