October 31, 2014

Lead Us Not Into Temptation… But Deliver Us From Evil

temptationThere have been more than a few comments this week about the Devil, demons, and evil.  All of which started me thinking of a recent study I had done with a small group on the Lord’s prayer.

The Lord’s prayer is familiar to all of us.  Many of us have said it a thousand times or more.  I don’t know if you have ever heard a sermon on the Lord’s prayer, or looked at it in a bible study or small group, but there is an incredible amount of richness packed into a few short verses.  The sentence that I was reminded of this week was:  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Did you realize that there is the underlying assumption express here that God leads us into temptation.  Jesus is the speaker, and it parallels his experiences in the early part of his ministry.  Perhaps the following was what Jesus was thinking about when he taught this prayer.

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. – Mark 1: 12-13

Michael Spencer once wrote:

The most striking thing about this passage is the verb ekballo used by Mark to indicate how the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Mark uses this verb 17 times, often in the context of exorcisms. The force of the verb is not captured by the NIV’s “sent”. Better is the NASB “impelled.” We are not to think that Jesus is reluctant to experience this chapter of his life, but to see the strong hand of the Spirit leading Jesus in his ministry. The Spirit of the Lord is truly “upon” him and we read of similar strong directions by the Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. John’s gospel records many statements of Jesus explaining that he is in the world to do and say exactly what he is directed by the Father. We are not to think of Jesus as a puppet, but we are also not to think of the Holy Spirit as anyone less than the sovereign God! God’s Spirit is the mightiest of powers and we should expect strong leadership of the Holy Spirit in those things that are in the plan and purpose of God.

James 1:13 tells us that no one is tempted by God, but as Job can attest, God can certainly allow tempting to take place.   In the case of Jesus, there appears to have been an appointment with temptation orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.  James, interestingly enough doesn’t ascribe temptation to the Devil, but to our own lustful desires.  Peter, on the other hand, is much more upfront about Satan’s role.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

I think James and Peter both have a perspective on the big picture.  I know that when I am tired, that is not alert and sober minded, I am more easily tempted by food.  For those of you who are old enough to remember it, one of the catch phrases of the ’70s was, “The Devil made me do it”, coined and popularized by the late Flip Wilson.  I can remember debates and sermons  in those years discussing how much blame should be attributed to the Devil, and how much should be attributed to our own sinful desires.  (Feel free to continue the debate in the comments below.)

The second part of the phrase also has its own interesting twist.  While I learned the Lord’s prayer, I learned the version that included the phrase “deliver us from evil.”  Or at least that is what it says in certain translations, not to mention the form used in Catholic and Anglican churches.  Most translations now express the second part of the sentence as “deliver us from the evil one”.  The Greek is literally “the evil”, leaving us to wonder what Jesus had in mind.  Scholars are divided, and we see that expressed in our translations.  Most scholars however are of the opinion that it is more that a generic evil that is being referred to here, but rather a reference to Satan himself.  This too would parallel Jesus’ experience in the wilderness as the evil he faced was Satan himself.  Could he have been talking about some other particular evil, like the persecution that his followers would face?  It doesn’t appear to be likely, as Matthew doesn’t use the phrase elsewhere in that manner.

So those were the thoughts that I was ruminating on this week.  What do you think?  Do you see God playing a role in temptation?  Did the Devil make me do it?  Or am I responsible for my own actions?  Jesus appears to speak of evil personified.  Do you agree with that interpretation?  How tied together do you see the ideas of personified evil and general evil?  As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Screwtape on the Existence of Demons

cslewiswritingatdesk

Whenever we consider the subject of demonology, it is hard to ignore the contributions of C.S. Lewis. In the modern era, few have stimulated the imagination with regard to the spiritual realm as much as the author of The Screwtape Letters. The book, dedicated to his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, begins with two quotes:

The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn. (Luther)

The devill . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked. (Thomas More)

This Lewis proceeds to do in masterful literary fashion. Through witty epistles, he captures the cleverness and wiles of Satan’s agents as well as their ultimate shortsightedness and folly. This series of letters and memos comes from a senior demon (Screwtape) to a younger protege, his nephew Wormwood — a “Junior Tempter” — regarding Wormwood’s assignment to damn the soul of a human being known only as “the Patient.”

A portion of one of the letters pertinent to our discussions this week deals with modern humanity’s view of the existence of spirits and the Devil. Here is Screwtape’s counsel about how to best exploit that.

My Dear Wormwood,

I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work – the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits” – then the end of the war will be in sight. But in the meantime we must obey our orders. I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

Chapter VII

Luther: Living in a “Halloween” World

Werwolf (detail), Cranach

Werwolf (detail), Cranach

 

And though this world with devils fill’d
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath will’d
His truth to triumph through us.

• Martin Luther, trans. Frederick Hedge

Brother Martin lived in God’s presence, but they were generally three, for the Devil was seldom absent.

G.W. Foote

• • •

The world in which Martin Luther lived and led a Reformation was a magical one in which spirits filled the common imagination. The woodcut above by Lucas Cranach (1512), who later did many illustrations on behalf of Reformation causes, pictures a folkloric world of dark woods and the threatening presence of mythic creatures like the werewolf, here seen devouring a peasant woman’s family. Halloween was not a dress-up holiday to them, but an ever-present imaginative reality.

In Heiko A. Oberman’s remarkable study of the Reformer, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, the author contends that we cannot understand the good monk without accepting that he was a man “raised with the devil.” Oberman argues that it was not only his mother, whom Luther’s enemies described as a backwards peasant woman who introduced young Martin to a world full of demons. Indeed, the rumor they spread included the tale that the boy was conceived in a bathhouse through intercourse between his mother and the Devil himself! But belief in spirits and witchcraft and the devil were not simply the superstitions of ignorant peasants. Oberman says even the most erudite humanists of the time maintained such beliefs.

Today, I share with you a quote from Heiko A. Oberman, setting forth Luther’s mindset.

Luther’s world of thought is wholly distorted and apologetically misconstrued if his conception of the Devil is dismissed as a medieval phenomenon and only his faith in Christ retained as relevant or as the only decisive factor. Christ and the Devil were equally real to him: one was the perpetual intercessor for Christianity, the other a menace to mankind till the end. To argue that Luther never overcame the medieval belief in the Devil says far too little; he even intensified it and lent to it additional urgency: Christ and Satan wage a cosmic war for mastery over church and world. No one can evade involvement in this struggle. Even for the believer there is no refuge — neither monastery nor the seclusion of the wilderness offer him a chance for escape. The Devil is the omnipresent threat, and exactly for this reason the faithful need the proper weapons for survival.

There is no way to grasp Luther’s milieu of experience and faith unless one has an acute sense of his view of Christian existence between God and the Devil: without a recognition of Satan’s power, belief in Christ is reduced to an idea about Christ — and Luther’s faith becomes a confused delusion in keeping with the tenor of his time.

Attempts are made to offer excuses for Luther by pointing out that he never doubted the omnipotence of God and thus determined only narrow limits for the Devil’s activities. Luther himself would have been outraged at this view: the omnipotent God is indeed real, but as such hidden from us. Faith reaches not for God hidden but for God revealed, who, incarnate in Christ, laid himself open to the Devil’s fury. At Christmas God divested himself of his omnipotence — the sign given the shepherds was a child “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12) . To Luther Christmas was the central feast: “God for us.” But that directly implies “the Devil against us.” This new belief in the Devil is such an integral part of the Reformation discovery that if the reality of the powers inimical to God is not grasped, the incarnation of Christ, as well as the justification and temptation of the sinner, are reduced to ideas of the mind rather than experiences of faith. That is what Luther’s battle against the Devil meant to convey. Centuries separate Luther from a modern world which has renounced and long since exorcised the Devil, thus finding it hard to see the difference between this kind of religion and medieval witchcraft. But Luther distinguished sharply between faith and superstition. He understood the hellish fears of his time, then discovered in the Scriptures the true thrust and threat of Satan and experienced himself the Devil’s trials and temptations. Consequently he, unlike any theologian before or after him, was able to disperse the fog of witches’ sabbath and sorcery and show the adversary for what he really was: violent toward God, man and the world. To make light of the Devil is to distort faith. “The only way to drive away the Devil is through faith in Christ, by saying: ‘I have been baptized, I am a Christian.”’

macbr131The following chronicle of his own encounter with the Devil as a poltergeist has a clearly medieval ring:

It is not a unique, unheard-of thing for the Devil to thump about and haunt houses. In our monastery in Wittenberg I heard him distinctly. For when I began to lecture on the Book of Psalms and I was sitting in the refectory after we had sung matins, studying and writing my notes, the Devil came and thudded three times in the storage chamber [the area behind the stove] as if dragging a bushel away. Finally, as it did not want to stop, I collected my books and went to bed. I still regret to this hour that I did not sit him out, to discover what else the Devil wanted to do. I also heard him once over my chamber in the monastery.

The final passage, with its pointed formulation and its underlying expression of contempt for the Devil, was amazing at the time and is overlooked today: “But when I realized that it was Satan, I rolled over and went back to sleep again.” It is not as a poltergeist that the Devil discloses his true nature, but as the adversary who thwarts the Word of God; only then is he really to be feared. He seeks to capture the conscience, can quote the Scriptures without fault, and is more pious than God — that is satanical.

When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something new, Devil! I already know that perfectly well; I have committed many a solid and real sin. Indeed there must be good honest sins — not fabricated and invented ones — for God to forgive for His beloved Son’s sake, who took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ. This wonderful gift of God I am not prepared to deny [in my response to the Devil], but want to acknowledge and confess.

Luther’s purpose is not to spread fear but to strengthen the resistance of the faithful. Like Christ, the Devil is omnipresent. He acts and reacts, is drawn and challenged by anything that smacks of Christ and true faith. Here is found a radical deviation from the medieval concept of the Devil, according to which the evil one is drawn by the smell of sin, the sin of worldly concern. In Luther’s view, it is not a life dedicated to secular tasks and worldly business that attracts and is targeted by the Devil. On the contrary, where Christ is present, the adversary is never far away: “When the Devil harasses us, then we know ourselves to be in good shape!”. . .

(p. 104f)

 

What can we learn from Luther and his thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions regarding the Devil and the spirit world? Are these to be viewed merely as remnants of a bygone age of medieval superstition? Or does he have things to say which can inform and assist us in our lives today?

Another Look: Writers Roundtable on Halloween

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