I have always been bothered by the “but” in the Lord’s Prayer. I have wanted to say, “and deliver us from the evil one.” However, the “but” is firmly fixed in the original. We are told to pray this way, to ask the Father not to lead us into temptation–with one exception. Temptation might be necessary to deliver us from the evil one.
It has been said by some of the Church Fathers that all vices, all sins, are not equal. Some sins are of the flesh. They are manifestations of the animal nature out of control, of natural desires run amok. Examples of these sorts of sins are gluttony, thievery, fornication and even anger and murder. These are sins, and they are certainly evidence of spiritual sickness, but they are sins of the flesh. If they are not attended to, they can cause serious problems in one’s relationship with God (and others), but they are not the worst sins.
The worst sins are the demonic sins. Demons don’t eat or fornicate, steal things or even murder (directly), but they are full of pride, hatred of God, vanity, envy and self esteem (that is, they think too highly of themselves). These are some of the demonic sins, and perhaps these are the kind of “spiritual” sins that sometimes require a fall for us to recognize in ourselves. Perhaps sometimes a fall in the flesh is just the thing needed to make clear to us that we have nothing to be proud of, and that our vain presenting of ourselves and our high self esteem are nothing more than play acting, thin veneer over rotted wood. After all, Jesus came to save sinners, and if we cannot see the sin in our heart, perhaps we need to see it in our flesh to learn that it has really been in our heart all along.
Even if we look at how things played out in the Garden of Eden, we can see that the fall into a sin of the flesh makes evident and perhaps even saves Eve and Adam from a deeper, demonic sin. Before Eve is tempted by the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, before she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” before this happened, Eve had engaged in a demonic conversation with the evil one. Eve had begun to question God’s love, to doubt God’s word; she had begun to entertain a demonic thought: the thought that one could be like God without God. In a sense, the temptation and fall into gluttony (and it’s consequences) make evident to Eve and Adam the certainty that God indeed loves them, keeps His word, and that God Himself is the only pathway to growth in godlikeness. The sin of the flesh makes evident the sin in the heart.
I say the Lord’s Prayer with trepidation. I strive to examine myself, to see the poverty of my spirit, the hunger of my soul for righteousness (one is hungry for what one doesn’t have). How easily I engage the evil one in conversation. How easily, like my first mother Eve, I doubt God’s word and God’s love. How easily I begin to think I’ve got this or that person or situation figured out. But I don’t. My sins make that evident to me. But when I am aware of my sins and my sinful tendency, the passions that rage in my mind and body, then I pray in peace. It’s an irony. It’s the divine irony. Jesus came to save sinners, and seeing my sin, I am delivered from it. When I am not acutely aware of my weakness, however, that’s when I fall into it.
O Lord, lead us not into temptation, but….