The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 62, No 3, May-June 2009

Theology for the Laity

The Our Father, Part VII
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
But Deliver Us From Evil

By Father Reginald Martin, O.P.

A Remedy for the Future

       In the petitions of the Lordís Prayer that we have considered thus far, we have asked God to protect us from present ills, and to forgive sins we may have committed in the past. As the Lordís Prayer draws to its close, we ask God to preserve us from sin - and from what leads us to sin - in our future actions.

The Nature of Temptation

       Although we commonly think of temptation solely in negative terms, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that temptation can also serve as inducement to do good. Temptation, in itself, is simply a trial or proof of our virtue. We demonstrate our capacity for virtue by doing good and avoiding evil, so we may be tempted in either resolve.

Doing Good

       God tempts us to do good either by inspiring us to undertake some additional virtuous act (e.g., fasting, or performing one of the works of mercy), or by allowing us to experience some hardship, by which we come to understand the strength of our character and our ability to withstand attack upon it. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God tells Moses He may occasionally allow false prophets to rise in the midst of His people. When this happens, He says, "...the Lord is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 13:3).

Doing Evil

       Our more common experience of temptation is probably the lure of something that leads us to turn away from God. Our theology has traditionally identified the world, the flesh, and the devil as the sources of this temptation. We shall consider each of these in turn, but first we must remember "God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one" (James 1:13). Our disordered desire makes sin appear attractive, and God may allow us to experience this attraction, but God does not cause evil. He may permit it, so some good may emerge, and thus He may allow us to be tempted, but only so that we may realize our total dependence upon His mercy, and so we can come to know our capacity to do good.

Sources of Temptation : the World

       The world is the realm of material good and secular honor. The world encourages us to promote ourselves excessively, and to seek material possessions far beyond those we need to satisfy our legitimate needs. Obviously, we have a right to a good reputation, and the virtue of humility urges us to rejoice in what Godís love allows us to be and do. The temptation exerted by the world is one of degree; we surrender to it when the desire for money, fame, or some other indicator of success becomes so great that it imperils our own salvation, or blinds us to our obligations to God and one another.

       But the world exerts another, more insidious, temptation, which is the fear of persecution. On the one hand, we can be so eager to succeed that we drive ourselves to reach for an excessive share of material goods. On the other hand, fear exerts an opposite lure, encouraging us to shrink from doing good because we dread some consequence of our virtuous act. St. Paul reminds Timothy, "...all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...." (2 Tim. 3:12), and we must expect some conflict if we are serious about living a Christian life in a world that often scorns Christian values. The alternative is a moral paralysis that is terrible to consider because it prevents us from sharing the reward Christ promises to those who are willing to forsake themselves to endure His cross.

Sources of Temptation : the Flesh

       Our flesh continually reminds us of physical pleasure, and it always seeks its own gratification. We commonly identify sins of the flesh as lust, or some over-indulgence in food, drink, or something else that is good or necessary. But our flesh exerts another temptation as well, and that is the urge to turn away from a spiritual good. This can be as simple as choosing time on the Internet over time for prayer, but however this temptation manifests itself it prevents us from pursuing what will nourish, refresh, and restore our spirit. St. Paul summed up this tension when he lamented,

    "I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, and making me captive to the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom. 7:22-23).

       Other temptations assail us from outside us; our flesh is a part of us, and we must always respond to its legitimate claims. The challenge for Christians is to distinguish between the needs of the flesh and its wants. We must grant the one, while keeping in mind that our bodies must never stand in the way of our soulsí everlasting happiness.

Sources of Temptation : the Devil

       The devil deceives us by confusing the appearance of good and evil, and - once we have succumbed to sin - by suggesting excuses for continuing to sin. St. Thomas Aquinas was a superb psychologist. He realized we naturally shrink from evil that we recognize as evil. A far more subtle challenge is to avoid an evil that appears - if only temporarily - as good. We encounter temptation in this guise every day, with minor or more serious effects. For example, when we must choose between wasting time and using it more profitably, when we are urged to spend more than we can afford for a product that promises marginally better results than a competing good, or when we are urged to overlook some flawed aspect of a political candidateís platform because the rest is so attractive. Virtues and vices are both habits, and each becomes easier with practice. "Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14), and if we wish to avoid finding ourselves enmeshed in an unprofitable, sinful habit, we must be careful to avoid taking the risky "first steps" that may seem to be no sin at all.

Defense against Temptation

       Temptation is a fact of Christian life - the gospel relates that even Jesus was tempted - and prayer is the first defense against it. In the Lordís Prayer we beg, "lead us not into temptation." Here we should consider that we do not ask God to remove temptation from our lives, which would be unreasonable. Rather, we ask for the strength to resist temptation, as Christ did, and our prayer for this resistance becomes one more way to identify our trials with our Saviorís.

       Common sense suggests another, practical defense against temptation, which is to avoid the situations or individuals that encourage us to do wrong. These "occasions of sin" are the moral equivalent of physical danger. Our physical lives are subject to all sorts of risks; if we are wise, we minimize our exposure to them. It is the same with our moral lives. We cannot avoid temptation altogether, but we can reduce its threat by not putting ourselves in its way.

A Call to Look Within

       Temptation is never a pleasant topic, but it is fairly easy to consider so long as we view it solely as a force acting upon us. However, as we reflect on our moral lives with others we must acknowledge an additional danger, and that is our own capacity to be a temptation. Anyone who looks at the newspapers in the grocery store has grown numb to the word "scandal." What may surprise us is that scandal has little to do with the misbehavior of celebrities. In our moral theology, scandal means leading another person into sin.

       The virtue of charity calls us to wish anotherís good, and the greatest good we can wish is anotherís salvation. To lead another person into sin is the most serious sin against the virtue of charity, so it is the worst sin we can commit. The temporal consequences of Christian discipleship may be painful, for we are beset by all sorts of inconvenience and tribulation. But these are nothing compared to the punishment we will suffer if we trip another - and this is what the word "scandal" means - whom we ought to be supporting on our pilgrim journey to salvation.

Conclusion of Our Prayer : Deliverance

       Throughout the Lordís Prayer we ask God to forgive the sins we have committed in the past, to form us in His image so we may be signs of His goodness in the present, and to help us avoid committing sin in the future. As the Lordís Prayer draws to its close we also ask God to save us from the general ills that beset us, namely the trials and afflictions that are a part of our everyday life in the world.

       God may occasionally intervene directly in our lives, to preserve us from some accident or illness, but experience teaches us that these are rare - indeed, miraculous - events. Godís support is generally more subtle, and we experience it in a variety of on-going ways that bring us abiding solace every day.

Comfort in Suffering

       Our word "comfort" comes from the Latin word, fors, which means "strength." As we approach the great feast of Pentecost, we will often hear the Holy Spirit described as our "Comforter." We may be inclined to think of Godís Spirit as something that makes us warm, but the Spiritís true mission is to make us strong, especially when trial or adversity weakens our faith.

Reward in Affliction

       When we undergo them - and in this regard we may reasonably think of the many challenges we face in these uncertain economic times - trials are unpleasant, and we may find little in them that is redemptive. When we ask God to deliver us from evil, we seek His gift of insight that allows us to place our trials in perspective - at the very least, to see them as temporary. Our prayer may not altogether relieve our anxiety, but it may allow us to see our suffering in the larger context of a weakness that afflicts the entire Body of Christ as a result of sin.

Patience in Trial

       Here we must repeat that the Lordís Prayer does not ask God to deliver us from trial, which is a natural part of our life, but from sin. When faced with temptation or trial - and especially if we succumb to sin - we experience sadness, which blinds us to reason. St. Augustine teaches that Patience is the virtue without being disturbed by sorrow, lest he abandon with an unequal mind the goods whereby he may advance to better things.

The Beatitude of Peace

       Patience allows us to see Godís love and goodness in spite of the trials that beset us, and to temper by reason the joys that often threaten to overwhelm us. To the extent we cultivate the equilibrium of patience, we approach the tranquility that is Godís gift of peace. The blessing promised peacemakers is to be called Godís children, which is nothing less than to be like God. Just as nothing can harm God, so those who are patient can rise to the challenges of prosperity or adversity, joy or sorrow.

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