An­swer­ing Ge­orge Davis’ prayer

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Lu­cien Jones Lu­cien Jones is a lay preacher. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and lu­cienw.jones@gmail.com.

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!

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