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Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 10 - "But Deliver Us From Evil"

In this part of the study, we come to the last petition of the Lord's Prayer - "Deliver us from evil."  It is first important to examine what is meant by this petition in its literal sense, as it can be translated a couple of different ways.  Some Scripture translations have it as "deliver us from the evil one," meaning the wiles of Satan, but Guardini uses the Duay-Rheims translation, which like the KJV translates it as we are accustomed - "Deliver us from evil."  Either way, honestly, is fine, and no theological conflict of interest will ensue from either, as both have orthodox support.  So, Guardini in his text begins by raising some important questions about this passage.

The first, and most important question to ask is this - what is the evil from which we should ask to be delivered?  There are, of course, many to choose from, and generally these evils tend to come to us and we don't really have to make a lot of effort finding them (nor should we, if truth be told!).  However, the important emphasis of the text is not from what we should be delivered from, but rather who the petition is directed to, and it is addressed to Divine Providence Himself.  On page 86, Guardini makes an important observation when he notes that Providence becomes only what it really signifies based on the measure we enter into agreement with God in concern for the kingdom.   So, what on earth does that mean??  It follows the theme of the book as Guardini has written from the start - God's will is sovereign, as we noted in Lesson 1, but it also can be weakened by man's resistance to it.  God doesn't, in other words, force us to submit to His will, but rather we make a conscious choice, based on the free will He gave us, to submit ourselves to that will.  Therefore, our willingness to submit to God's will for our lives is measurable in the commitment we make to do so, and that is the measure of Providence we will see manifested.  Like everything else we pray in the Lord's Prayer, any petition therefore that God preserves us from evil come within the framework of Divine Providence.  If we do choose to enter into that fullest measure of agreement with God in concern for the Kingdom ("Thy will be done," in other words), it has a transformational effect on the world around us - in other words, as God's will is good, and for our good, all comes together for good for those who love and serve the Lord in fulness of being (Note Romans 8:28).

That all being said, it is important to see the even and consistent flow of the Lord's Prayer as studied from this point.   Deliverance from evil is linked closely to the petition that asks God for forgiveness of sin.  Evil is an effect of sin, and if Newton's Law is applied, it would look like this - an evil action will produce an evil reaction.   Guardini, on page 87 of his text, goes into an example of how, if he feels an animosity toward his neighbor, it colors the way he perceives his neighbor - the "good" is filtered out and the evil is concentrated.  As a result, a hermeneutic of suspicion is applied to the offending neighbor's communication to the point that if the feeling becomes manifest in action, and if the neighbor is not anchored in righteousness from God himself, then the attitude he displays toward the neighbor will be reciprocated by the neighbor and adopted and focused back at him.  In short, evil begats evil.  If we have this attitude as a part and parcel of our personality too, other things happen to us as well - stirring speech remains lifeless to the hearer, the intended thrill of a situation leaves the respondent cold, the joyful and generous is discouraged, and the exalted becomes trivial - all of this arises from a condition of the heart.  The Church Fathers addressed this as well extensively in many of their writings, and we now will turn the focus to them.

In the writings of the Church Fathers, in particular the Eastern Fathers, there is a lot of discussion devoted to dealing with "the Passions," and as Guardini notes, these "Passions" rage within and make one restless.  But, what are these "Passions?"   St, Gregory of Sinai, in his discourse entitled On Commandments and Doctrines, deals at length with the "Passions" and what they are, and so far his discussion is one of the most extensive I have come across, so we will try to summarize what he says here.  For one thing, passions are provoked by sinful acts, and the logical order of how this works is this - concupiscence is the nature within us which engenders a propensity toward sin, and by giving into temptation that is often aggravated by Satan to cause us to sin, the concupiscent drive to sin, if heeded, becomes manifest by a sinful act.  The sinful act, in turn, gives us a hunger to engage in it that the Fathers call a passion.  The passion then engenders in us an addiction to engage in the sinful act, and our normal thought processes are distracted by this addiction to the point it dominates our lives and endangers our soul.  Satan's primary way of doing this is through the lusts of the flesh, which are sensory-based - pleasures that we enjoy become idolatrous vices when indulged in excess, and hence we are driven to more sinful behavior to satisfy that appetite.  As St. Gregory notes, these distractive (and ultimately destructive) thoughts are the work of demons, and they are precursors to the passions.  So, demonic provocation (appealing to those base desires that are part of our concupiscent nature) begets the evil thoughts which, when given into and acted upon, become sinful actions (Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware, ed,  The Philokalia Vol. IV {London:  Faber and Faber, 1995}  pp.  223-227).  Guardini picks up on this further in his text, as he notes that the exasperations of everyday life aggravate these temptations, and that the ultimate effect of these passions is the devaluation of the self and other people, and the destruction of order in thought and feeling (distractive thoughts?) which results in confusion.  Evil does assault us from all sides, but its greatest battleground is within the mind itself.  Protestant Charismatic author Joyce Meyer, in her book Battlefield of the Mind (Tulsa:  Harrison House, 1995) notes that our reasoning is often used by Satan to steal the will of God from us, and the way that happens is that God may direct us to do a certain thing, but it doesn't make sense to our "rational" way of thinking, so we tend to reject it.  Some of what God leads us to do doesn't always conform to the logic of the human mind, in other words (Meyer, pp. 86-87).  Again, this is concurrent with what Guardini says in his text about allowing externals - even human rationalism - to destroy the divine order of thought and feeling, and this results in a confusion.   The antidote to this is found in Ephesians 6:17, in part of the classic "Armor of God" passage - the helmet of salvation.  If you have read my own book on Ephesians, you will note that one of the things I compare the human person to is a temple, and the mind is its outer court - everything we perceive in the senses is processed through our mind, in other words.  That is why, in submitting to God's will, we have a sort of filter that protects our heart and soul from those things our mind comes in contact with, and therefore that filter is what God's "Helmet of Salvation" is.  We have to guard ourselves, in other words, against those things which, either by just human influence or the manipulations of Satan and his demons, could potentially cause us to sin by appealing to certain things that should not be appealed to.  And, this is why our perception is also important, which we will now discuss more in detail.

On pages 88-89 of his text, Guardini spends a lot of time dealing with the term "world" and what it entails.  It is important that we understand first that this world exists for and by man, and as such it has two centers.  First in externals, things.  Secondly, in man himself.  Through the eyes of man the world is perceived.  Through the will of man the world is encountered.  Finally, through the heart of man the world is felt.  As man therefore relates to other human persons, as well as to things he encounters, so the "world" becomes.  Man forms the world in conformity with his own specific being - this is called one's world view.  Therefore, if there is evil in man, so likewise that evil in man will be reflected in the world around him.  Outside of our individual beings, there are real things, and interaction of course exists between us and these things.  With that in mind, the true significance of the term "world" lies in the vital interplay of thing and person that arises from this interaction.  The resulting effect, therefore, of this interaction will be determined by what man permits, decides or influences.   God made it this way, but with a different dimension - the world He intended for us comes into being only in conjunction with us.  Through the Revelation of Himself, God has called man to perfect Nature in this encounter.  This goes back to basic Thomistic metaphysics - God authored two "Books" (Nature and Revelation) and the second perfects the first.  In order for this to happen as God intended though, the outcome of this encounter is determined therefore by what man himself is - the good in man becomes the good in the world, and likewise the evil.

That brings us back to this petiton - we are in essence praying to be delivered from the evil within ourselves, so that it may not become manifested evil in the world!  Therefore, the petition challenges us that we may be taught to understand that evil comes from evil within.  We also desire to be taught that the world can continually renew itself, with the good within us producing good outside us.  To put this in a theological framework, the transformation Christ does in us should show as our witness to the world around us, and if it does, our quality of life improves and impacts those around us because Christ is allowed to do His work in us, and the resulting effects are called in Scripture the "fruits of the Holy Spirit" we find listed in Galatians 5:22.  Also, the redeemed in Christ receive the seed of a new creation (note Revelation 21:1) and it is spoken into us by Christ Himself when we submit our wills to His perfect will ("Thy will be done").  And, much of this also has its power in words too, as we see next.

The pervasiveness of the spoken word is something that is inescapable.  Even after its sound fades, the spoken word enters into the consciousness of its hearers (this is even true in the parables of Jesus, of particular note the classic Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13). It also shapes our Christian walk too, as Scripture reminds us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the Word of God" (Romans 10:17, NKJV).  Therefore, when we hear the Word of God expounded on in our Masses and other liturgical services every week, and we allow it to be listened to, it becomes a part of our inherent reality.  Evil likewise has its origins in words spoken, either by ineptitude, negligence, or past evil deeds.  The wickedness of the heart can become a tangible reality in the world, as we are seeing increasingly in society today.  This wickedness then becomes distilled into evil, and emerges to confront others in the form of scandal ("false witness") hindrance, and oppressive atmosphere.   And, if allowed to grow and persist, it begets more evil, becoming a seemingly endless chain.  But, there is good news.

First though, what is true on a personal level is also true in the collective history of humanity - Darwinism, for instance, begat eugenics, which in term begat evils such as Nazism in the early part of the 20th century.  Therefore when in this sense the petition "deliver us from evil" is prayed, it means breaking the chain by which evil continually arises out of wickednesss, and therefore preventing the propagation of new evils.  Again though, this breaking of the "continual chain of evil" only comes when the individual human heart submits itself to God, undertaking the task that His will be done.  So, surrendering our will to God's will breaks the bondage of evil.  Furthermore, although this evil is real and does exist, blind fate does not compell us to become entangled in its destructive cycle.  Redemption can be realized, and that is why Christ came to earth and died for our sins!  Through the redemptive shed Blood of Jesus Christ, the freedom of the children of God is awakened in man.   And, as a result, it penetrates as an emanating power the chain of universal evil and breaks it.  St. Paul, like the many Fathers of the Church that came after him, affirms that evil comes from sin, and the greatest of all sins that Guardini identifies is the breaking away of man from living union with the will of God.  And, this is a sin that finds its way into every heart, and it continues to operate every time we do sin.  And, that is the reason why we seek, on a daily basis, the grace of God through Christ to sustain us - Jesus is our Daily Bread, the Bread of Life, and we receive Him at every Eucharist we partake of.  This is why our prayer life and faith must be living and active, and not just mere lip-service.

Ultimately then, because we all have this concupiscence to sin, and are vulnerable not only to the passions that are birthed by allowing that sin to manifest in action, but also to Satan and his demonic minions enticing us with things that appeal to those passions externally, our plea for deliverance from evil also becomes an intercessory prayer on behalf of humanity, as a petition for deliverance from evil in its totality.  That of course will not be fully realized until Christ returns and restores the universe and heals it from the effects of the Fall, but as Christians our daily lives are a pilgrimage of faith in that direction on a personal level.  And, deliverance from evil doesn't refer to secular time - rather, it truly is eschatological, something that pervades the spirit of the whole petition.  Therefore, although we are to pray for this daily, the fulness of salvation will only be realized with Christ comes back as one of three interventions, the first being the Creation itself, the second the Redemption.  So, the plea "Maranatha!" (Revelation 22:20) is tied to this petition in a really profound way.  And, like most prayers, it refers to now as well as hope for the future.  God bless you until next time.