Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to believe in the presence of evil. In fact, it may be easier to believe in the power of evil than it is to believe in God. After all, the headlines are definitely sexier:
- suicide bombers
- drug addiction
- promiscuity that leaves lonely and shattered lives in its wake
- acts of hatred committed in the name of religion (almost all of the religions)
And that’s just off the top of my head.
The last line of the prayer (at least in Mark’s version) asks us to deliver us from “evil” or “the Evil One”, and sometimes it seems like God has chosen to ignore this request.
Ultimately, I have neither the brains or space or typing capacity to wrestle with the question of why evil ultimately exists, but I do have a few thoughts.
- Jesus’ ministry, especially as portrayed in Mark’s Gospel, is a running battle with evil: over and over again we are told that Jesus confronts “evil spirits” and though they seem to know exactly who Jesus is (in contrast to most everybody else, including his own closest followers), they don’t stand a chance against him. So Jesus knows what evil looks like, and he doesn’t like it. At all. We like to think of Jesus running around, showing everyone what God’s love looks like, and being a good teacher; I don’t think we often think about Jesus primarily focusing on confronting evil, but that’s pretty much what Mark describes.
- This battle with evil comes to a head, in a way, in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus leaves his closest followers behind and goes into solitary prayer. By this point, he can easily see where his actions are taking him—to death—and so he prays to God one of the most honest prayers we’ll ever read: “‘Abba, Father,’ he cried out, ‘everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’”
And God said, “No.”
As N.T. Wright put it, “We have to come to grips with the fact that Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples, but that when he prayed it himself, the answer was ‘No’… He would be the one who was led to the Testing, who was not delivered from Evil… Jesus was called to throw himself on the wheel of world history, so that, even though it crushed him, it might start to turn in the opposite direction.”
- As Jesus embraced his call to the cross, I believe that he knew this call was to be a sort of ultimate battle with evil. However, this battle would not be fought on “evil’s terms”. It would be fought on God’s terms; which meant
… surrender, not slaughter
… humility, not arrogance
… sacrifice, not triumphant destruction
In other words, Jesus’ would fight and win the battle against evil by (ironically) letting evil do its worse to him.
- The early followers of Jesus struggled to make sense of the cross. Among other things, they recognized that something cosmic happened there, and it had to do with the power of evil in the world. One of those followers wrote this to a small church in Asia: “He (Jesus) canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.”
So what do we do this this? Is evil defeated? Because sometimes it sure doesn’t look like it… How do we live in light of this?
- Evil has been defeated, so we no longer have to pay undo attention to it. We are free. Some would call us to retreat from the world so that we won’t be contaminated by its evil, but we can say, “look at the cross; the powers have been defeated there.” We are called to live as free people in a world that God has created, and is redeeming.
- Evil has been defeated, but that doesn’t mean we ignore it completely. Redemption is a process. History is moving. Jesus ultimately defeated the powers at the cross, and ultimately evil will be completely defeated, but in the meantime, we are called to help in its defeat, but using the method that Jesus used: by exposing the vacuous and empty nature of evil—of violence, of power, of economic supremacy, of consumerism (just to name a few)—through the humility, meekness, and even irony of the cross.
To pray, “deliver us from evil” is to simultaneously claim the power of Jesus’ ultimate victory and to embrace the call to be a part of defeating it, daily, hourly, moment-to-moment in our world and in our lives.