Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, we’re at the final, seventh petition. Over the last month, we’ve talked about who we’re praying to, namely our God who relates to us as a father does his children. We’ve talked about the petitions having to do with God and His way of living and being in this world, praying that He would be treated as holy, that more people would live under His reign, and that everything would be subjected to His will. We’ve started talking about the petitions that have to do more directly with you and me—that we would have and enjoy everything we need to support our earthly lives; that we would be forgiven, just as we forgive each other; and that we would not be tempted or give into temptation. That last one turns out to be another big request, seeing that we love to tempt ourselves, Satan loves to tempt us, and the world does its thing in the same tempting way. And in a few places in scripture, we see that if we rebel long enough and hard enough, sometimes, God steps aside and lets us have our way. When we pray, “lead us not into temptation,” we pray that God would thwart even our own plans so that we would avoid temptation altogether as much as possible.
Today’s petition is closely linked with that prayer. In fact, some scholars believe that the whole thing “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” should be seen as one single petition. If we’re led away from temptation, we’re also delivered from the evils brought about when we give in to those temptations. But there is enough here, even in the history of the Church as a whole, to warrant this as its own petition. As we pray these words, they, like all the other petitions, quickly expand and balloon out to be very large, substantial requests. For us, that’ll start with the simple question, “What does Jesus mean by evil?”
For starters, we’ll note that the english language is lacking here. The Greek word behind the word evil can mean evil in general or evil personified, the Evil One, Satan. Many times, and I think here included, Jesus is intentionally vague as to which one He really means because both ways are good and right and we would probably keep both in mind when we’re praying this prayer. So before we dig into evil in general, let’s touch on the Evil One, Satan.
First and foremost, we must acknowledge in this prayer that Satan really does exist. I know it’s the popular thing nowadays to deny that the Devil exists. “We can’t see the supernatural realm, so it doesn’t exist! We can’t verify it with scientific testing, so it can’t be true! If God is good, He wouldn’t let such a being exist, so Satan isn’t real.” I know the idea has crept into this church. For years, Satan had His way with your relationships, creating divisions between pastor and people, between friends and family, between brothers and sisters in Christ. Once His activity there was rooted out, and relationships began to be restored, He switched tactics, moving from the people to the building. In my first couple of years here, we’ve had problems with termites, faulty shingles, needing a new boiler, more termites, a broken organ, leaks and water damage, and termites a third time! If Satan couldn’t tear you apart relationally, He’s going to try to tear this place down physically. When I mentioned that in the pulpit a couple of years back, there was laughter in the pews. The idea of Satan existing, let alone working his evil among us here was ridiculous to many of you! Yet the unanimous testimony of Scripture, including and especially the words of Jesus Himself, is that the Devil exists and that He targets God’s people. Lord, deliver us from the Evil One!
This request also move out from evil personified to evil in general. In Luther’s Small Catechism, he even aside from Satan himself, there are evils of “body and soul, possessions and reputation.” Evils of the body are the easiest ones for us to connect with, I think. When your body stops working the way it’s supposed to, we would call that an evil of the body: cancer, birth defects, arthritis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s. When life is suddenly and unexpectedly taken away because of disease, natural disasters, terrorism, or mass-shootings, the evils of the body are clearly present.
Evils of the soul are less apparent, but no less rampant or deadly. Evils of soul would include false teachings—those teachings put forth in Jesus’ name, yet at best have nothing to do with Jesus, and at worst actively work against Him. It would also include ideas of other religions or philosophies that work their way into our minds and we assume they’re true without even thinking about them—ideas like karma or astrology or luck. In many and various ways, these evils of soul undermine the Faith and can easily draw your trust and hope away from Christ altogether.
Evils of possession can deal with having too much or too little or being too attached. Having too many possessions can lull you into a false sense of security. You’re set in this life, so why think about the next? Having too little money or too few possessions can draw your attention away from Christ and onto where your next meal is coming from. And is this evil persists, people die of starvation, thirst, lack of shelter, and lack of medication. Being too attached to possessions is an evil as well. Then, life only becomes about things, money, and stuff. When they are stolen, destroyed, or lost, then your world falls apart and all is lost.
The phrase, “evils of reputation” sounds really stuffy and archaic, but it much more present than you might realize. In our day and age, reputation is a thing easily destroyed. A single, simple news story can destroy someone’s reputation forever, whether they deserve it or not. Facebook posts easily tear others down by at best a one-sided presentation of the facts, at worst simple slander and opinion. Gossip and bullying and abuse all tear down a person’s reputation. And when done to Christians or by Christians, the name of Christ comes into disrepute as well.
Those are the four areas of evil Luther talks about in the Small Catechism. But, it doesn’t take long to recognize the evil that exists around the world in so many other forms as well. We experience these evils with all our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. We are surrounded by evils in this world and the Evil One himself. Yet in the arms of our loving heavenly Father, there is a defense and protection against all this evil. Jesus is the one who experienced all this evil and more and conquered over it for your sake. This is what Paul reminds us of in Galatians 1, “Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Even though we yet struggle against evil in its various forms here on earth, in Christ you are set free. Even the worst evil cannot touch your salvation. You belong to Him.
So we pray: “God and Father, through the death and resurrection of Your Son, You have shown Your power over evil. Through the working of Your Holy Spirit, show that power in our lives as well, defending us against all forms of evil: against Satan and evils of body and soul, possessions and reputation. Keep us firm in our faith that You might be exalted in time and in eternity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell