Over the last few weeks, I have been discussing how the Lord’s Prayer can be a model to form a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I have proposed that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 are not only meant to show believers how to pray but also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying.
We have uncovered how prone we are to oppress and exploit one another. When we are faced with the opportunity to prosper at someone else’s expense, we will often choose to betray our conscience and do what it takes to secure our own future. This we know! But the question remains: what drives this? What drives our tendency to exploit rather than to extend a helping hand? What drives our urge to disinvest individuals, communities and nations rather than offer life and meaning and beauty.
Jesus’ admonition for us to pray that we would not enter into temptation but be delivered from the evil one gives us a clue. In this segment of the prayer, Jesus clues us in to another reality, another force that often drives our poor decisions: Satan. While I think that we have to be careful that we do not draw unnecessary attention to the enemy, we also cannot be ignorant of the devil’s devises. His very nature is to steal, kill and destroy, and he accomplishes this goal by enticing people like you and me to play along.
We see this in Jesus’ own temptation experience when after an intense 40 day fasting period, Satan paid him a little visit. But what exactly does Satan tempt Jesus with? First, he tempts Jesus with mammon – turn these stones into bread if you are the son of God. After a 40 day fast, Jesus is hungry. Will He wait for God to provide for Him, and trust Him in that provision? Or will Jesus impose upon His position as the Son and take matters into His own hands?
Satan also tempts Jesus with forsaking trust in His heavenly father. Satan argues that if Jesus is the Son of God, God will protect Him – even if He does something as foolish as throwing Himself down from off of a mountain. Ultimately, Satan is hoping that this scenario will cause Jesus to question whether or not He can truly trust God. Does God have his best interests in mind? Does God want the best for His life? Will God protect, cover and deliver His own Son?
When Jesus resists Satan’s lure for the second time, he moves on to tempting Jesus with power. Satan offers to Jesus the kingdoms of the world if He would only bow down to Him. He is essentially trying to convince Jesus to abandon His plan of saving the world in exchange for having the world – all of the kingdoms he could have if He were to simply worship Him.
These temptations play off of Jesus’ own vulnerabilities otherwise they would not be temptations. Food was a real need for Jesus. He needed to eat otherwise He would eventually die. How would God provide? Being secure in His relationship with His Father was a real need for Jesus. He understood that He was about to give up His life – would God the Father truly sacrifice His Son? Or would God keep Him safe? And power over the kingdoms of this world was also a need, but still Jesus wondered and hoped that it might be accomplished in any other way but the cross.
We are also tempted with the same things on a minute by minute basis. We are constantly fed the lie that God won’t provide for us and subsequently start to believe that there are not enough resources to go around for us all. Our anxiety over the matter leads us to commit all sorts of atrocities because in the absence of trust we end up confusing our lustful wants with our actual needs. This is what caused early settlers in the United States to steal land from the Indigenous people, engaging in acts of genocide in the process. And it was this same temptation that led these settlers to steal the bodies and labor of Africans, instituting chattel slavery for hundreds of years. And it is this temptation that causes the continual disinvestment of black and brown people in this nation – the rhetoric that is subtly communicated is that black and brown people are taking all of the jobs and eating up all of the opportunity, so we must be put in our place to ensure that there are enough resources for whites. As he did with Jesus, Satan tries to get us to believe that we must take our need for provision into our own hands – even when our needs are not needs at all but are nothing more than selfish rants of childish adults.
In the same way that we are tempted with provision, we are also lured by promises of power, fortune, and fame. It is not that these things are inherently evil – power can be good, fortune can be good, and even fame can be good. These things cross the line from good to evil depending on how we get them and what we do with them. Satan tries to get us to believe that we can have instant access to these things, and so we go after them by any means necessary which often causes us to oppress others in the process. We want instant fame, so we will drag someone else’s name through the mud or say the most ridiculous things simply for shock value. We want instant riches, so we rip others off, create pyramid schemes, devise shady business plans, and outrightly steal simply to make a quick dollar. We want power, so we go after it by taking power, autonomy and agency from others. We want it all, with little or no cost to us – instead, we want others to pay the cost for our own comfort. And then when we get the power, fortune and fame that we are after, we go through great lengths to maintain it. This essentially explains mass incarceration and police brutality in our country, both which prop up an existing system of white supremacy and Jim Crow.
All too often we fall for the devil’s devises but the good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus is our model here – in the same way that He was victorious in His temptation experience, we can be victorious in ours. We don’t have to respond to Satan’s lure to exploit others just so that we can get ours. We don’t have to sell our souls to him in order to get ahead. Instead, we can resist his pull toward the promises of this world. Jesus’ brother James gives us the prescription here: “Submit therefore to God, Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4.7). And Satan will indeed flee, in the same way that he went away from Jesus as He countered the devil’s misappropriation of the Word of God with the truth.
Jesus resisted Satan by standing in the truth of the Word. This is important. If we want to likewise withstand temptation, we have to know the Word – the whole Word. The apostle Paul reminds us this in Ephesians 6:
If we want to resist the lure of powers and principalities in high places, Paul shows us that the Word of God is key. The whole Word. We can’t string together a slew of scriptures to craft a political agenda and hope to have any power in resisting pure evil. No, we need the entirety of God’s Word to fight the onslaughts of the evil one.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that we have been been doing theology wrong. Oftentimes we craft a theology to justify the selfish needs and desires that Satan keeps trying to convince us are genuine. Such is the case with the entirety of the prosperity gospel, a theology designed to essentially delude people into thinking that the endless pursuit of stuff is a godly thing. And it was the case with the doctrine of manifest destiny, Hitler’s Mein Kampf and so many ideologies and theories based on one scripture uplifted from its place and taken out of context. We won’t resist evil this way, we will only perpetuate it. At it core, this approach to theology and understanding God’s Word often has more to do with our twisted desire to manipulate God rather than our genuine desire to know Him.
Essentially, this is what Satan was trying to do with Jesus. Satan was hoping that he could twist God’s word in such a way that Jesus would subsequently try to manipulate and control God. It worked with Adam and Eve, right? Why not Him? It didn’t happen because Jesus knew the Word and He knew God, and He knew that no matter how things looked or how He felt, He could ultimately trust God. And that is the only way that we will be able to withstand, too!
Be sure to join me next week for the final part of the Lord’s Prayer Series. Follow me on Twitter to be sure that you don’t miss it!