Rote prayers are good and enduring, esp. in times of turmoil and pain when we want to pray but don’t know what to say. But rote prayer can also be recited absent-mindedly, so much so that we don’t always realize what it is that we are saying, even if it borders on questionable theology. Take, for example, the following prayer which pretty much the whole world knows as the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who is in heaven …
… As we forgive those who trespass against us
and lead us not into temptation …
Wait a minute, what did we just say? We pray to God who is our Creator, our Father, who loves us into being each day from the moment of our conception, who helps us to forgive so we are open to receive divine mercy ourselves. So far, so good. But then some puzzling words … and lead us not into temptation?? This good God, this loving Father, “leading” us into temptation?! How can a loving and forgiving God “lead” us into temptation? Does this not contradict the words in the letter of James: Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when lured and enticed by one’s own desire.(1:13-14)
I have long stumbled over this line in the Lord’s prayer. What’s more is that the text of the Lord’s prayer in the Scriptures (Matthew 6:9–13,, Luke 11: 2–4) , at least in the NRSV translation, no longer says that God “leads” us into temptation, but instead, “And save us from the time of trial.” Now that makes sense to me; ours is a God who saves, not a God who tempts.
Having said that, I don’t think this means that God cannot draw good from our wayward ways. We are indeed “lead into temptation” many times a day — enticed by earthly rewards, driven to satisfy unreasonable cravings, seduced by idols and false gods, chasing misguided ambitions. God can use these distractions, sometimes indeed leading to sinful actions, to remind us of our total dependence on divine mercy, sustenance and guidance. That is the great good news for which I am immensely grateful. God’s mercy bestows tremendous dignity, allowing us to not be defined by past missteps but to always being offered new beginnings however many we need. But that’s as far as I’m willing to go though. As far as God leading us into temptation? I’m not convinced. Yet that’s what we keep praying … so … am I missing something?
Any thoughts to add anyone?