Lenten Reading: On the Lord’s Prayer published by SVS Press.
We have extant three pre-Nicene treatises explaining the meaning of the petitions in the Our Father which the early Christians were encouraged to pray very often.
They are all in this volume: Tertullian, Origen, and St. Cyprian of Carthage.
One of the more enigmatic petitions in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation”. What does this mean?
How can God lead us into temptation when James said, “When temptations come, let no one say, “I am tempted by God,” because God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13)?
How can we pray that temptations will not come when Peter says, “Be sober, self-controlled, and watchful. Your adversary, the devil, roams about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brethren throughout the world experience the same sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)?
How can we pray not to be led into trials (another translation of “pereismos”) when Paul says, ” “we must go through many afflictions to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)? Or when Job asks, “And is not the life of a person upon the earth a test” (Job 7:1)?
What does it mean then? “Lead us not into temptation”? The key is to interpret this phrase in light of the rest of the petition, “but deliver us from the evil one.” (The Greek could be translated as either “evil” or “the evil one”).
To be “led into temptation” is to be put into the devices of the Devil. Origen tells us to think of this as Romans 1 puts it- to be “led into temptation” is equivalent to being handed over to our sins and passions for either punishment or cleansing depending on our response.
So, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” is ultimately a request that our Father will not hand us over to our sins and we thus become the prey of the Devil, but rather, that He will deliver us from the roaring lion’s clutches.
What is our part in this deliverance? That’s all in the first part of the prayer. We are delivered from the evil one by hallowing God’s Name, by living out the Kingdom to come now, by trusting God for our daily bread (spiritual and material), by living in forgiveness towards others and receiving forgiveness ourselves, and by praying for God’s continued mercies in preserving us from evil and the evil one.
Here is the first book I am reading for Lenten reflections: On the Lord’s Prayer: Tertullian, Cyprian, & Origen