Part 14 in our series on the Our Father.
The last petition of the Our Father is, in a sense, the most practical. “Hallowed be thy Name,” at the beginning, is so lofty as to be hard to pin down. It’s not immediately clear what it means, or what we should do. But “deliver us from evil” nicely expresses how we experience the Christian life most of the time: “Lord, please, just help me keep out of trouble!”
We experience this, first of all, on the physical level. It seems like nothing makes people pray like danger. Friends of ours just had a baby in the hospital, for what, thank God, turned out not to be leukemia. Everyone was praying then!
We can learn a couple lessons from this. First, we learn that there really are, at least on some levels, objective goods and bads. There is such a thing as “evil,” at least in the sense of Really Bad. (Latin and Greek, in fact—and also German, French, and a lot of languages—don’t make a distinction between “evil” and “bad.” It might be helpful to pray sometimes, “deliver me from bad things!”) Leukemia is bad.
Second, good does sometimes come from bad. It’s good to be reminded to be thankful for our children, good to pray, good to come together. But leukemia is still just plain bad.
Third, we believe that God is provident, that he can help us. Praying “deliver me from bad things” at least gives us a sense that God does something.
But finally, “bad” can never be the last word. Once cured from sickness (or poverty, or trouble at work, or whatever) we still have a life to live. We are liberated, or “delivered” from evil, but still left to seek the good. Despite our constant experience of struggling to get free from bad, we still need to live life and seek for happiness.
Now, all of this repeats itself on the moral level. Indeed, when we begin to ask what comes next, once we are free from physical evils, the question next arises how we should live. For many of us, most of the time, Christianity feels like a struggle to stay out of moral evils, a struggle with sin.
Here again, the struggle reminds us that there is such a thing as good and bad. To be struggling against our own sin means we are already decent people – but we recognize that we still have a long way to go. We are still snippy, self-righteous, unfair to the people around us. It is good to struggle against evil in our moral life. It is part of the path of love.
It is even better to pray to God to deliver us. The Our Father does not tell us to pray, “I’ll try harder next time.” It teaches us to ask our Father to deliver us. It encourages us to transform our struggle to be a better person into a deeper reliance on God, a deeper belief that he can actually help. Just as God can heal our physical ills, his grace also heals our spiritual and moral sickness.
And the Our Father teaches us to think of this in terms of liberation. Christ sets us free. Not free to be evil, but free to be good. Just as sickness prevents us from living our life, so too does sin. To pray “free us,” deliver us from evil, is to learn to see that sin is not a matter of breaking arbitrary laws, but of being caught up in kinds of un-freedom, inability to live a full life of love.
At the end of the Our Father, this is, in some sense, our ordinary experience of the Christian life: the struggle against bad stuff, physical and spiritual, the gradual discovery that sin is slavery, and the even deeper discovery that God is powerful to set us free and deliver us.
But finally, too, we learn to see that there is more to life than deliverance from evil. Though we spend much of our life fighting little problems, the Our Father calls us to lift our eyes higher. We pray not just to do better this time, but to be healed from temptation; to learn to forgive; and to see God not only as our deliverer from evil, but as our constant nourishment.
And then to lift up our eyes to willing as he wills, working for his kingdom, and hallowing the name of Our Father. This is true liberation, the true meaning of escape from sin.
Do you struggle as much as you should against little evils? Or do you get caught in the battle against little evils? What would true Christian freedom look like?