Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
It started as a simple conversation.
I poured out my heart and mind to a woman I met. She expressed her amazement at my openness and insightfulness. I expressed my amazement at her empathy and feedback. An attraction was born as we began to yearn for each other.
I heard the warning in my heart not to pursue a relationship with this woman, but I ignored it, a warning which was not repeated. The more we shared with each other, the more I was pulled in. It seemed like a perfect match.
When my personal circumstances took a turn for the worse, she offered me the chance to leap forward into her waiting arms. I lept, just before the economy crashed and my employer was wiped out (the “Great Recession”, as it would be later called). I was saved in the nick of time by my beloved.
Or so I thought.
Lead us not into Temptation…
Have you ever been led by the Lord to a place where you were ruined?
Most Christians would say this isn’t possible, often by quoting James (“For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone…Jm 1:13). Note, though, that I use the word “led”.
“Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” (Ps 23:4) Before you are finished walking The Way in this life, you will walk through a great many valleys. Sometimes, temptations will be on display like a carnival, hemming you in from all sides while pressing into your face.
Why? The answer is found in a single sentence found within the Lord’s prayer (Mt 6:9-13), the same one thoughtlessly recited by so many on any given Sunday.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Have you ever wondered why the word “but” is there? Shouldn’t it read “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil”? The word “but” implies an either/or. Wouldn’t we want both? Wouldn’t God want both for us?
The reason is because of who we are. Even though many refuse to admit it, each of us has evil desires in our heart, just as James says (“…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” – Jm 1:14). That’s not a criticism, but it is an observation about our species: each of us has tendencies toward specific thoughts, emotions, and/or behaviors that, if left unchecked, gives way to becoming a thief, liar, murderer, adulterer, and so on. We may not always have any of these things rolling around inside of us, but if you put any of us in the right circumstances under the right kind of pressure, something will be revealed.
Our modern world rejects this. Instead, the world prefers to believe that “evil” is a problem to be fixed, whether through education, reform, or even revolution. To be fair, there are many “evils” in the world today, some of which exist because of various political, economic, and social powers (capitalism comes to mind, of which I would be a vocal opponent but for the lack of a better idea).
Yet, a holistic view requires both looking outward and inward, and projecting all of our problems outward is no more true than projecting all of our problems inward. What exposes our erroneous view of evil beyond mere words and academic arguments? Temptation.
Specifically the kind of temptation you succumb to when none of those external factors are present, and when you know you shouldn’t do what you are about to do, but you do it anyway, with nobody to blame but yourself when the results come in. Sure, all of those external things may have played a part (of which nobody wants to recognize because it’s easier to blame someone or something else). Yet, you know, deep down, if you’re honest with yourself, that your decisions played a role as well, a role that you cannot deny.
Why did you steal that wallet? Perhaps you were starving, and nobody stopped long enough to give you something to eat. Perhaps nobody taught you that stealing is wrong (a stretch, but possible, I suppose). Perhaps you were brainwashed into believing you are Robin Hood, giving what you stole to the poor as an act of justice.
Yet, these are not the only possible reasons: the other set resides within you. Perhaps you lack faith that God and/or others will supply your needs. Perhaps you ignored every lesson about stealing that you could have learned in place of poor upbringing. Perhaps you didn’t bother to give any thought to the falsehood of your brainwashing.
Furthermore, any of these may be an excuse for the real reason. Perhaps you covet the possessions of others out of envy or jealousy. Sure, you may have a psychological disorder (kleptomania), but maybe it’s really because you slapped away everyone in your life who tried to give you something before, and what you now lack is only reaping what you have sowed.
Any of these may be the reason. Yet, whatever the reasons, both externally and internally, you wouldn’t have stolen that wallet if there wasn’t a corresponding condition within you which prompted you. Just because someone is starving, uneducated or brainwashed doesn’t mean they will succumb to stealing a wallet.
Perhaps you are not a thief at heart. Yet, I’m sure that if we opened you up, we could find something else. If you believe you have no matching internal conditions making any temptation possible, then you are claiming to be perfect and without sin.
And what is a temptation for me is not a temptation for you.
…but Deliver Us From Evil
Sadly, too many insulate themselves from this education of self.
For the majority of Christians today, “deliverance” comes through isolating oneself from any source of temptation. Citing that one must flee temptation (Jm 4:7), they avoid any place and any person that might so much be a hint towards temptation. The result is a people that are still of the world while also not in the world, insulated by Christian culture from the sufferings of others.
Although it is wise to avoid temptation in general, the problem is that the person is thus never tested. Indeed, another meaning of the Greek word for temptation is “testing”. Thus, when temptation comes and finds that person wherever they are hiding (and it will), their weakness is revealed and they fall, sometimes with disastrous consequences (such as those ministers who fall from grace while leading their flock).
To put it another way, temptation (testing) is the means by which we find out whether or not we are spiritually real. How else are you going to learn, overcome, and experience deliverance if you are not tested from time to time? Fleeing is what we do once the evil is revealed – you can’t flee from something you don’t know exists. Fleeing is followed by confession and transformation, allowing you to be stronger next time, often on behalf of others (2 Cor 1:6).
I know many reading this will have a hard time accepting what I am saying because it will seem to them that I am advocating putting oneself in danger and possibly doing evil, just so that good may result (Rom 3:8). No, what I am saying is to follow the Lord, wherever He might lead you, even if that path takes you into a situation where you stumble and fall.
And if we should fall in spite of (or because of) ourselves? Then that stumble will be an opportunity to know His mercy. Trust in God’s grace, confess your sins, repent, and continue forward in your walk. This is how evil is cleansed from every soul.
A lust revealed
Back to the story at the beginning of this post.
Paul was correct when he said that God always provides a means of escape when tempted (1 Cor 10:13). The problem, of course, is that we often ignore the escape hatch. When the warning of the Lord came to not pursue this woman, I refused. The result was a relationship that, although compatible in many ways, did not have all of the necessary ingredients for a successful relationship. It failed. I was left heartbroken.
But I also learned. I not only learned a lot about what goes into a successful relationship, but I also learned something about myself, specifically what was in my heart. My desire was for a loving partner that I could share life with. There’s nothing wrong with this desire, unless that desire interferes with your walk in The Way. Do you desire a partner? Or do you covet a partner? A desire is just that, while covetousness adds the word “now” to what we desire. Biblical wisdom seeks the Lord’s counsel on this choice: God knows the kind of partner we need, along with who fits and who doesn’t (both for ourselves and our prospective partner).
Covetousness ignores this counsel. She had many wonderful characteristics, characteristics I admire to this day. However, there were also a few fatal character flaws for both of us, flaws that, when combined, produced a deterioration in the relationship that could not be remedied. These facts were in addition to her not being a believer at the time of our union. As many reading this already know, this opens a different slew of challenges, the kind of challenges that compromise a relationship at its very foundation.
This education, sad and hurtful as it might have been, is what I now carry forward, not just for myself, but in counsel for others. It’s not just words on a page in a Bible: it’s knowledge and wisdom gained through suffering. The Lord didn’t want me to suffer (hence the warning in my heart) but I couldn’t (wouldn’t) gain this knowledge and wisdom in any other way. The same is true for each of us.
“Lead us not into temptation BUT deliver us from evil”.
What do you need to be delivered from?