And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Underlying all theological reflection, and at the center of all religious disputes about “god” lies one fundamental question, namely, does he/she/it to whom and about whom we are speaking actually exist? If so, then, ulitmately, like pesants arguing about the King or citizens arguing about taxes, whatever we are attempting to say is necessarily only for our benefit and not in any way determinative for its actual being. In other words, paraphrasing the late Vaclav Havel, if there is a god, then we are not it.
As we have seen, this awareness, as fundamental as it may seem, actually constitutes the radical argument inherent to Jesus’ prayer, because far from an absract, disembodied force against which we push, with which we cooperate or from which we derive strength, the Christian God is the Father of Jesus, the one who raised him from the dead. In this assertion, one taught to us by Jesus himself, we have taken a radical step outside of any sort of anthropomorphic religion based on what god can do for us and into a world that confesses what He has done for us. As subtle as this shift may seem, in it lies the difference between all other religions and Christianity, in that one is based upon a eudaemonistic, or self-serving, leveraging of human merit or vice against god for his/its/their blessings, and the other confesses to the personal creator, the Father, “thy will be done. . .” In other words, for the former, “god helps those who help themselves,” and for the latter, “god helps those who he wants.” Or, in other, other words, one is based on the law and the other rests on the Gospel.
This is why we were taught to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” because inherent to the confession of a god who is not us is the painful realiztion that we are those who realize their own propensity to fall prey at every step to temptation and be consumed by evil; however, in that confession lies the hope that we have been given, that the one to whom we pray is not absent, not unaware, not distant and not unconcerned with our situation as those easily misled and often given over. He is the one who is not nonchalantly watching the travails of human history as if we were a super complex ant farm, nor is he waiting to be coerced into action by gifts, sacrifice or service; on the contrary, he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep,(Jn 10:10) the sheep who so easily, so often and so tragically have gone astray. Jesus said “my sheep hear my voice,” and in our prayer, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we are confessing our conviction that we have heard, because he is not silent.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6