Rescue us from evil
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.-Matthew 6: 13
We say that praying shapes our believing. So what does this line of the Lord’s Prayer say about what we believe? Along with this line in the prayer which draws our attention to the reality of evil in our lives, I found myself thinking of the baptismal service, and what it says about what we believe about evil.
While baptisms in the Episcopal Church often include an adorable (perhaps clueless) infant in some fancy lace get up, safely doused with a tasteful and limited amount of water, and lots of silver vessels, the service also explores the topic of evil. That says to me that any serious consideration of discipleship, any serious attempt to put faith to work in the world calls for a realistic recognition that we contend with evil. In the liturgy for baptism (p. 302 of the Prayer Book), we renounce evil as it shows up in three particular ways.
First, we renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. Images of red, horned, tailed creatures bearing pitchforks aside, as we pray about evil, we recognize a spiritual power that comes to us as tempter. Jesus met that presence in the desert, tempting Jesus to worship something not worth worshipping. I’m told that Margaret Mead had a strong influence on shaping this baptismal service in the 1970’s. While some folks who worked on this service wanted to eliminate language about Satan (“Nobody believes that stuff anymore!”), she said that while some church folk might not believe in Satan, anthropologists do. She argued (successfully) for this language to be preserved in the service. My own take: we dismiss this kind of spiritual force at our own peril.
Second, we renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. I read that as evil in the social and political sphere. G.K. Chesterton said that the doctrine of original sin is one of the few Catholic beliefs that can be confirmed by each day’s headlines. He wrote: “The Church’s doctrine of original sin is the only part of Catholic theology which can be really proved.” Reinhold Niebuhr, a Protestant, called original sin “empirically verifiable.” News of late confirms those points as we see those powers at play this morning in Mariupol for sure. But we don’t have to look that far. In recent history, from my point of view, that kind of power showed up when leaders decided to separate children from their parents on the southern border, without bothering to keep track of either parents or kids. I see those powers at work in our nation’s history of slavery and the genocide of indigenous people. It surfaces in forces of materialism, racism, any number of isms. Where do you see evil surfacing in our common life?
And here’s the kicker, the truly annoying part. As Pogo said: We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us. The third renunciation speaks of sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. We recognize evil in each of our hearts from which we need to be delivered. It’s that coldness of heart, the schadenfreude that feels good when something bad happens to someone else, like smiling while driving on an interstate when cars are stuck in miles long traffic on the road headed in the opposite direction. It’s that hubris that causes us to play God, when we need to tap into the wisdom of Anne Lamott who told her readers: The difference between you and God is that God doesn’t think He’s you. I thank God that my inner most thoughts are not projected on a screen. It would be ugly to have my all that on full display. Scott Peck put it this way: The major threats to our survival no longer stem from nature without but from our own human nature within. It is our carelessness, our hostilities, our selfishness and pride and willful ignorance that endanger the world.
So we pray for help, knowing that Jesus went through his own time of trial. We pray knowing we can’t face this on our own. We ask for help, maybe echoing the words of the psalmist: Create in me a clean heart. We pray believing that we have not been left alone in the struggle. What a friend we have in Jesus, who knows our every weakness, so we take it to the Lord in prayer. And we pray in the Easter season rejoicing in the conviction that redemption happens. We pray believing that love wins. May God grant us grace to let all those prayers guide us in this coming week.