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Friday, October 01, 2004

Lead us not into temptation...

"Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

That we are taught to pray this prayer pre-supposes two things, it would seem: First, God's leading involves leading into temptation. Second, we are to ask God to NOT lead us in such a way or He will do so. Thinking a little more about this, we get to the following dilemma: First, if God leads us to temptation as part of our spiritual development, then why ask Him not to do so? If He doesn't lead us to temptation, then why pray this prayer?

So, God DOES leads us to temptation, it would seem. But, we are also taught not to accuse God of tempting us, because God does not tempt anyone. Temptation, says James, comes to a person “when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed…” Yet the Lord Himself taught us to pray that the Father “lead us not into temptation...”

Okay, God, we should not say, “God is tempting me” says your word, for You cannot be tempted by evil, nor do you tempt anyone. So, what is the difference between you tempting me, and you leading me into temptation? If you do not tempt anyone but lead him or her into temptation anyway, why do we need to pray that you not do it?

God lead us not into temptation.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

1 Cor 10:13

It appears then that while God does not tempt anyone, He is very much involved in the temptation of His people. It looks to me that He leads them into temptation, and He monitors how much temptation they are allowed. Although James says that temptation’s real source is our being carried away by our own evil desires, yet it seems clear that God has a very active hand in it…

I am reminded about some of the questions I had when I read the first pages of Job. Why did God instigate Satan to turn against Job? Actually, I have so many questions about the story of Job, but for now I will stick with just this line of inquiry. It appears that God was goading Satan to do something about his faithful servant Job. It appears that God wants Satan to test Job. I sometimes even wonder for whose benefit those tests were directed. Were the tests for Job’s benefit? Were they given to prove a point to Satan? But the point is, what is the significance of the prayer “lead us not into temptation…” Why are we to ask God not to lead us into temptation? What kind of prayer is that? What answer should we expect from Him?

I have heard it explained that this part of the Lord's Prayer is two-pronged. While we ask God not to lead us into temptation, we pray that He will deliver us from evil should we be so led. Yeah, right. Sounds to me like we are taught to ask God not lead us to temptation, but expect it anyway! In other words, ask God to not do this thing that we so abhor, but don’t expect Him to answer in the affirmative. So just to be safe, ask Him to deliver us from the very mess that we so not want to be in, should He fail to answer the first part. Kind of hedging our bets in prayer. A safe gambler’s ploy that.
But, if those are the premises, then how can we be sure that he will answer us in the affirmative in the second part? And, if not, why pray in such a manner at all? One might answer "Because He taught us to do so!" And that should be sufficient. But, is it really?

Perhaps this part of the prayer is not about asking God to do anything for us at all. Far too often we view prayer as an exercise in which we ask God to do things for us, or to give us this or that gift. As if He is at our beck and call! Now the word does say, "Ask and you shall receive." And, "You do not have because you do not ask" (See my related post on prayer). Having said that, though, It just doesn't make sense to me to think that God will lead us into all sorts of trouble unless we diligently ask Him to do otherwise. Doesn't sound like the kind of Father that I believe God has revealed Himself to be.

Rather than expecting this prayer to be asking God to do or not to do something for us, I believe this part of the prayer is more about accepting His invitation to enter into His passion. To enter into the experience that He went through in the Garden of Gethsamene, and to allow Him to enter into our experience. It is more about being real with God and communing with Him in a deeper sense of intimacy that He desires for us.

In that Garden, Jesus prayed, "Let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless, not my will but thine be done." He prayed that prayer three times even though it was something He knew He has come to accomplish. Yet the Scriptures tells us that He agonized in tears of blood that night, as He contemplated the Cross. He prayed, no, pleaded, and then out of the agony of that struggle, angels came to serve Him and strengthen Him to face His darkest hour on earth.

Perhaps the Lord was foreshadowing this whole agonizing experience in the garden when He taught us to pray "Lead us not into temptation..". He is asking us to enter into His agony and to realize that He enters into ours. I Corinthians 1: 5 says, "For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." It is a partaking with Christ of the life that He shares with us, and it is an acknowledgement of the Christ who enters into our suffering, pain and agony, and who mysteriously lifts us up from our place of shame, misery, guilt and brokenness into His bosom of grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, comfort and hope.