The ‘Our Father’ — Is True Prayer in the Words, or Our Trust in God’s Word?
Recently Pope Francis spoke favorably about an alteration in the French Text of the Lord’s Prayer:
“The French have changed the text and their translation says ‘don’t’ let me fall into temptation,’” he said in an interview broadcast on the evening of Dec. 6 (here on YouTube in Italian). “It’s me who falls. It’s not Him who pushes me into temptation, as if I fell. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up right away. The one who leads into temptation is Satan.”
In dealing with the commemoration of Luther’s role in the Reformation, the Pope has been faulted by some for being overly anxious to sound a note of conciliation between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant denominations. Yet when he implies that a good father doesn’t lead his children into temptations, he appears to give credence to the misapprehension that the Roman Catholic Church has no regard for the written Word of God.
For in Deuteronomy 8:2 Moses says to the Israelites:
And thou shalt remember all the way through which the Lord thy God hath brought thee for forty years through the desert, to afflict thee and to prove thee, and that the things that were known in thy heart might be made known, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments or no.
He afflicted thee with want, and gave thee manna for food, which neither thou nor thy fathers knew: to shew that not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
And of the experience of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is also the Word of God through which all things were made, we are told in the Gospel (Matthew 4:1) that, after fasting for 40 days and nights, “Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.” And when the devil taunted Jesus to prove he commanded the power of God, Jesus answered the temptation with the very words God had employed to describe the proof it was meant to reveal, saying “It is written, not in bread alone does man live, but in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Thus, in Moses’ account, and in Christ’s reliance upon its truth, we see God the Father, in spirit and truth, leading both His chosen people and His only begotten Son into temptation.
He does so in order to prove and/or make manifest their love of God, which is to say, their obedience to His commands. In light of this, must we conclude that Pope Francis misspoke when he said that “a father does not do that”? For in the Lord’s prayer Christ taught us to address God as our Father. But can the being of God, which is perfection, in being our Father, do and command that which no Father would do?
But even as a matter of merely human experience, the Pope’s statement simply doesn’t conform even to human experience. In almost everything we strive to teach our children, there comes the time when we must test their learning, in order to ascertain the good effect of our teaching. The example of God is thus reflected in the experience of humankind. What father would think it loving to teach his child to swim from a book, carefully explaining the words, but never leading the child into the shallow pool, and thence to its deep end, and thence to the deep lake or even the unfathomable ocean?
It is an aspect of love to make sure that knowledge exists in spirit and in truth; and God, who is love, is least of all likely to neglect this. Assuming that Pope Francis did not mean to say otherwise, what are we to make of his recommendation to translate the words of Scripture with words less than faithful to the literal import of the words that appear in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and even Aramaic source texts. The Pope objects to the phrase “lead us not”, but this is the figurative meaning of the terms use in all these languages. He objects to the idea that our Father God would tempt us, yet the whole import of the passage in Deuteronomy is that he did in fact and with purposeful intent, test His chosen people with temptation. In being engrafted upon that choice through Jesus Christ, why would we question the fact that God would love us even as he loved the Israelites, even as He loved the Son through whom we may be reconciled to Him, even though we remain alive in the world, yet being, one in spirit with Him through Christ, and by Christ’s presence transforming the living substance of our lives?
What is perhaps more concerning is the implication of the phrase the Pope favors in substitution for the received text. He would have us demand that God “let us not fall into temptation”. But if to endure temptation is a necessary part of the perfection of our faith, and the imitation of Christ we are called to by his living presence within us, what sense does it make for us to demand that our Father refrain from approving, in fact, the existence of that perfection? This makes even less sense when we remember that temptation and sin are not simply the same.
We can be tempted to sin without sinning when, in the midst of temptation, we remember the will of Christ and God, to follow it. For the will of Christ is obedience to God, and the will of God is to follow the commandments that express His perfect love for us, accepting that love, as Christ did, whatever we must endure for God’s sake. That willing acceptance of trials is the ultimate manifestation of Christ within us- for it makes manifest the perfection of our trust in God, that He has and will employ the power to deliver us from every evil, past, present and to come.
So, our lives become the prayer our words express when we say, “but deliver us from evil”. For those words express our total dependence on God to preserve, produce and save us, and our will to accept the gift with which he graced our humanity, which He has bound to exist in the image and likeness of His unbounded perfection. Thus, He allows in us a semblance of the freedom that might preclude our very existence, but for the fact that He has saved, and is still willing to save our lives forever, if only we use our freedom to accept the one who is the living way to do so, for us and all who answer to the name of humanity.
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