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“Lead us not into temptation”: Wait, what? We have to tell God not to do that?

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Russell E. Saltzman - published on 04/09/17

Actually, there is a translation that makes a lot more sense.

Though Christ has been raised from death, we still are confronted with evil and temptation. We continue to deal with the reality of sin, death, and the devil. So we turn to our risen Lord in these two petitions and we ask: “Do not lead us into temptation.”

What? Wait. God leads us into temptation? And we have to ask, don’t do that?

Every catechism I dig through stumbles over itself assuring us that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, does not lead, lure, entice, or otherwise discourage his lambs by dangling temptation before their innocent eyes. James 1:13, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, explains “God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”

Okay, good enough. But it is awkward phrasing and it must be explained, sometimes awkwardly. There is an alternative, the contemporary English translation: “Save us from the time of trial.”

I like it for a lot reasons. A time of trial proposes something more serious than temptation.

We think too small in any case. We like our temptations miniaturized. We are too likely to talk about the refrigerator door. As Mae West (d. 1980) made clear: “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

So on the whole, no; it was neither God nor devil that tempted you to that extra helping of mashed potatoes. That’s all on you. The devil’s just not that chintzy, anyway. Like God, the devil aims for the heart.

So we can win the food fight if we wish; piece of cake (so to speak). The fridge may be a trial yet it is a comparatively tiny one. The big ones, though, they strike hardest.

We live in an postmodern nihilistic age, daily exposed to the proposition that human life has no intrinsic meaning. The edges of our humanity have been fraying for a long time―the unborn and the infirmed are disposable. We will fray even more, I fear, for a devalued life devalues all lives, making us all vulnerable. Many live now knowing only cynicism or materialist acquisition, or both.

The greatest trials of our time, then, are false belief and despair. These two ride tandem.

False belief denies a merciful God of grace. It begins from questioning whether there is or is not a god. The answer is it doesn’t matter. It is immaterial. Live with guilt if you must, if you have some of those residual feelings, but do not think there is someone to give absolution.

Patti Smith’s rock lyric still stings: Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but he didn’t die for mine.

Living as if we are abandoned by God, who in any case makes no difference in our living, this is false belief. It affects our culture, and also our Christian lives.

A young woman, Rachel, 19, blurted out to me she had an abortion. God, she said, will never forgive her. That is false belief, fit for a faith desiccated by despair. There are not many days she is not close in my prayers.

Clara died at age 86, her life encased in resentment and self-revulsion. A childhood of sexual abuse had crippled her beyond repair. She was convinced she was abandoned. She never felt safe, never learned trust. Clara worshiped regularly, seeking and never finding, yearning for a Father’s love she would never know (in this life, anyway). Time does not heal all wounds. Sometimes, wounds still fresh, time simply runs out.

False belief gives birth to despair. It rolls in like fog, silent as cat’s paws, involving everything, gripping everything, holding everything, things that cannot always be defined. If there is no gracious God for my life, what is my life?

Despair is not depression; that is a medical issue for which there is a medical treatment.

Despair, instead, is a spiritual affliction threatening us individually, living as if life has no final meaning, a belief saturating us culturally. I speak here only of the individual; the God of history will sort out the rest.

But here it is essential to see how swiftly, gently Christ comes to us. “Cast your burdens upon him,” advises 1 Peter 5:7. That word “cast” suggests force, a sense of a violent, angry, and slam-the-door-behind-you. Here, take it! You said you’d take it, now take it!

So it is to him we pray “Save us from the time of trial, deliver us from evil.”

Our Lord does two things. First, he shatters the illusion that we are somehow strong enough, or brainy enough, or talented enough to put an end to our despondency.

Second, with that illusion shattered, he teaches us to put all into his care, and to do so expecting that he will exercise his power on our behalf.

Our job? Repeat as necessary. After all, it is not for nothing Christians sing that 19th-century hymn I need thee every hour.

For Christ is raised from the dead. He has taken to himself all the powers poised against this life and he will bring them under control. He is the one―as St. Paul told the Colossians―“in whom all things hold together.” And he holds us, as well.

Previously:Forgive us our sins as we forgive others

Next:For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory

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