Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video
We’ve come to that line in the Lord’s prayer today that I think causes problems for many people. Deliver us from evil – or more accurately, deliver us from the evil one. Christians disagree as to whether the personification of evil you see going on in the Bible is to be regarded metaphorically or as a description of reality. Jesus certainly seemed to regard the devil as a personal spiritual being, but he didn’t see all illness as caused by demonic influences. I wonder whether the preponderance of stories of deliverance in the Gospels are to reassure us that evil and good are not equal and opposite forces. The probably don’t represent an accurate statistical sample of the miracles Jesus performed. I’m sure Jesus knew the difference between a spiritual, psychological or physical malaise and acted accordingly. In my 47 years following Jesus I have seen and experienced things that defy a physical explanation. Without going into detail, they too have convinced me that Jesus is infinitely more powerful than any malign forces arraigned against him.
Paul is a little more circumspect. In Ephesians 6 he talks about our battle not being against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. He does believe in a spiritual world beyond but intersecting with this one. However, it’s as if the personification of evil in human affairs is enough for him. There are some things human beings do, behaviours that emerge from the communities formed around wicked ideologies, that seem to develop a life of their own. How is it that seemingly normal, mild-mannered people could be sucked in to the perpetration of the holocaust. What are the Russians who have kidnapped Ukrainian children to indoctrinate them with nationalist ideology think they are doing? How can people continue to perpetrate abuse when they see the harm they continue to do to their victims? People can become so corrupted that evil looks reasonable to them. Communities collapse in on themselves and re-enforce this behaviour until it is seen as normal and even good. There is a sense in which the defeat of Germany in WWII wasn’t just a liberation for those oppressed by the Nazi regime but for people who were part of the regime themselves. Eyes were opened from a sort of trance like state and they were able to see what they had become.
Much that is evil emerges from the misuse of power. Tom Holland’s magisterial book Dominion: The Making of the Western mind charts just how counter-cultural christian faith was to the communities in which it was first heard. It is not instinctive that the values we hold dear in our culture like human rights, an orientation to service, love, or valuing people irrespective of their capacity to contribute could have grown up in anything other than Christian soil. The Romans worshipped power, saw no problem in disposing of unwanted babies on rubbish trips and felt the extension of empire by conquest was a form of divine right. More recently the de-constructionist philosopher Nietchze, dismissed Christian care for the weak as a violation of evolutionary theory. In so doing he set the stage for the Nazi philosophies that were to follow. The use of power for one’s own ends lies behind the nationalism of Russia, the expansionist ideologies of the Chinese and every manifestation of corruption in governance. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
All of these ideas appear seductive, as they no doubt did to Jesus, when the devil offered him shortcuts to achieve his ends. But he resisted evil. He chose the costly way of love and self-sacrifice. It is love that ultimately overcomes evil. This prayer asks that God would help us not to give as good as we get. Great transformative leaders like Martin Luther-King, Wilberforce and Nelson Mandela knew that only too well. We are delivered from evil as we walk the way of love, in our everyday lives as well as on the global stage.