Pic of the day: The Lord of Terror, as imagined in the Japanese animation Aa Megami-sama. Deliver us from ...
Evil or Devil?
I have heard this at least twice, from different people, with many years between. Probably a decade or two. So it is probably some kind of urban legend in Christian milieus, except is it true in a manner of speaking.
In the Lord's Prayer, the only prayer commonly known by nearly all Christians, we say: "But deliver us from evil". The twist on this is that it can also be translated as "deliver us from The Evil One".
Evidently ancient Greeks either could not or did not feel obliged to use articles like "the" or "an" to specify how specific the thing was they talked about. I am not sure when they started doing that. According to my Norwegian teacher back in High School, the invention came from Egypt and spread via Rome to the Germanic language, a process that took many centuries. I am not sure if Greeks picked it up before or after, but probably before the Romans, since the Romans loved to imitate the Greeks. And we imitated the Romans again. But then again, this was a pretty nifty invention. Finnish still doesn't have it, but I read that they use some other word meaning "these" or some such instead of "the" when they feel the need. (I may be wrong about that, though, I only knew tourist Finnish at the best of times.) The point is, this language feature is still spreading so it sounds plausible indeed that the Greek original of the New Testament could be translated either way.
What bothers me is the motivation of the people who tell this. Isn't "deliver us from evil" pretty much ideal already? I suppose these people feel that the Evil One is more scary. Like, evil is pretty fun but the Devil has horns and hairy goat legs and dubious sexual appetites and is generally someone you don't want to meet in a dark and narrow place. So, uhm, is their idea that we should continue to do evil and then pray the Lord to deliver us from the personified debt collector of evil? I think that is not a good attitude to foster in the lambs.
Since the phrase comes just after "And lead us not into temptation" (to which I am sure many of us silently add, "we know the way already!") it is pretty clear to me that it is not about being delivered from the evil that others may do against us – in fact, the Lord pretty much said flat out that this was to be expected – but rather about being delivered from doing evil. And I don't really think you can improve upon that by personifying it. On the contrary, this perpetuates the idea that evil is something outside me. But the sad truth is that evil is mostly a problem when we do it. Even if Satan is camping on your porch with 666 demons, this is much less of a problem than if you get even a little angry at your brother. No, seriously. If you can say like Jesus: "The Prince of this World comes, and he has no part in me", then you are already delivered from the Evil One. It is only a matter of time. But that is a mighty big if, isn't it?
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