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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Deliver us from evil

In the prayer we say more often than any other, we beseech God to "deliver us from evil." But we don't like to think about evil.

Most of us probably prefer to live in denial about evil's existence, choosing to believe that people are good and the universe is benign. We can entertain the ideas of brokenness, vulnerability, frailty, even sin more comfortably than the idea of evil. We imagine evil to be an aberration, as obvious in its appearance as it is rare — like a medieval woodcut of a devil with horns and a tail.

We have a hard time relating to Martin Luther, hurling his inkwell at the devil in his study. And yet, without necessarily personifying evil as a literal devil, we know that evil "prowls around, looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8b). And we ask how and why, our voices echoing the classic question: "If God is all good and all powerful, then how can God allow evil to exist?"

What is evil? The way I understand it, evil is that which 'seeks to corrupt and destroy the creatures of God' (quoting from the baptismal questions in my Episcopal Book of Common Prayer). Evil is whatever seeks and rejoices in our death — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Some believe evil is whatever causes suffering.

But my studies have led me to believe that evil is always attached to human agency.


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