But Deliver Us From Evil

The Lord’s Prayer ends with us asking God for deliverance—deliverance from evil—and it does not specify or limit what that evil might be. No matter what the evil is—good Lord, deliver us from it!
    Like temptation, evil is something that can come from God, or not. Consider these three different categories.
    First is evil in the sense of something that’s given in nature, but which harms us. Cancer is evil, and so is death. Generally speaking, this sort of evil goes hand-in-hand with good things. The sunshine that can cause skin cancer is the source of all our trees and plants flourishing. And sunshine gives us joy, and as it warms our bodies (particularly in the winter season) it also warms our hearts. Nonetheless, it also causes our skin to age and thus pushes us along the road towards our death. You might live longer if you stayed in a dark box all your life. But would you want to?
    Despite the goodness of created things, we do ask God to deliver us from this sort of evil. We ask God to cure our illnesses, from sunstroke to cancer. And it is meet and right so to do.
    Second is evil in the sense of wicked things done by purportedly intelligent beings. These range from the petty to the grave, from cutting in line, say, to the spreading of toxins, adultery, mass murder, and so much more. We ask God to deliver us from all these evils also. And here we can go further than in the first category. While we ask God to deliver us from skin cancer, we do not ask him to deliver us from sunlight! But here, we should ask not only that God deliver us from (say) adultery, but that God would so change human hearts that there would not be any more adultery! Deliver us—deliver the whole human race—from the evils that come from the human heart.
    Now for the third category. As I wrote last time, the Bible indicates that sometimes the temptation that comes to us actually comes from God. Unlike other cases, however, when temptation comes from God it is a testing, a trial whose aim is to strengthen us (as iron is strengthened into steel by going through fire). God does not lead us into temptation in a wicked way, but he does push us into situations where our faith must grow, situations where we must trust in him alone and not in anything else. The archetype of this is Abraham and Isaac.
    So also with evil. There is evil that comes from God. Consider Amos 3:6—Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Evil that comes from God is prophetic and aims at repentance. Amos’s opening chapters tell God’s people that they have will get no special treatment from God when they do wicked things. For their wickedness, their city will suffer evil. And, of course, just that ensues: the city Jerusalem, with all its beauty and especially the beauty of the temple, was turned to ruin. Amos sees that action not as our second category (evil done by wicked people) but as God’s own action.
    The Bible also makes clear that God takes no pleasure in such punishment, and indeed is quick to “repent” of such deeds. He will bring Israel back home. And he will, some six centuries later, bring his own Son back from the grave.
    I think this third category of evil is important for us to remember. It has been a comfort to me, when sometimes reflecting on the decline of a once-great church, or pondering the decline of a city or a country. I am no prophet—I cannot say that such declines are God’s work—but we all can say this: IF they are God’s work, then their purpose is to bring us to repentance and renewed trust in him.
    And so we pray: Bring us to repentance, Lord, and deliver us from the evils that we deserve.
    (I have one more thing to say about “Deliver us from evil”—next week.)
    Out & About. This Sunday I will be at Good Samaritan Church, 1522 Highland Rd., Dallas, to lead a Bible study at 9:30 (on Luke 1:39-80) and preach at 10:30.


The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."