Deliver Us from Evil

Aug 24, 2021

Cassandra Spellman

We always conclude the Our Father by praying, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The same prayer, however, looks a little different when we find it in the Gospel of Matthew. It reads, “And do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one” (6:13, NAB). What is the difference—if any—between deliverance from “evil” and from the “evil one?” Are the words synonymous or is this a discrepancy in translation? And what are the implications for our own spiritual lives?

Let’s begin with a brief examination of evil, not adjectively (“He’s an evil man”) but subjectively (“Love of money is the root of evil”). It’s a bit of a paradox, however, because to define evil, one must really speak of what it is not. Evil, as a subject, cannot have any origin in God, Who is all good and the Creator of all things. A perfectly good God can only create what is good; evil, then, cannot be something created. In other words, it is not a substantial thing—a presence or entity we can hold or point to. Rather, evil is the absence of something.

Just as we cannot grasp a shadow but instead realize its existence because of its absence of light, so we sense evil because of its absence of good. Saint Thomas Aquinas accordingly defines evil as a “privation of good.” A person might comment, “Look at all of the evil in our world today!” This typically refers to things like violence, poverty, abuse, or racism. Yet these evils are really absences of various goods: peace, plenty, love, or respect. It comes in various ways and degrees, but evil is always an experience of the human soul, whenever we exercise our free will to choose something other than God.

We are free to make our choices, but our decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. There are always influences from without—and from within. What does Our Lord mean when He refers to the “evil one” in the Our Father? He refers to the Enemy: the devil or Satan. Our Lord spoke often of this Enemy. Just as there are many degrees of living, physical creatures between a single-celled organism and the human person, similarly there are various degrees of spiritual creatures between the human person and God. Angels and devils are these spiritual creatures, pure intellects that are constantly at work. Though a person always freely acts to choose a lesser good than God (“The devil made me do it” is an excuse we can’t rightfully claim), the soul will inevitably meet cunning and aggressive persuasion from the devil.

We all are on a spiritual journey to God. This is why the interior of many Catholic churches looks like an inverted ship, with the pitched ceiling being the bottom of the vessel and the pews the seats aboard. Where are we journeying? Onward and upward, to the tabernacle, to God Himself. But like an earthly journey, where we encounter a variety of set-backs and obstacles, the spiritual journey is also filled with possible perils. The Enemy is always at work: “Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

There are various ways that the evil one can tempt us to evil. It might be through worldly temptations: honor, ambition, and success in secular society. Sometimes we are pulled toward old habits and a prior lifestyle not long ago abandoned. One might say that the devil is evil (adjectively) and intends evil (subjectively) for each one of us. The evil one is always tempting us to choose a lesser good than God and, thus, fall into sin.

Is there ever a point that an individual can become completely evil? No: people—even those who have committed the gravest of sins—are always inherently good. Regardless of what they have done, they are still made in the image and likeness of God. Nothing changes that. Yet, by falling into mortal sin, a deep darkness envelops their souls. The devil is referred to as Lucifer in the Bible, a name which means “light-bearer.” He was so named because, according to Church teaching, when God created him, Lucifer was the highest of all the angels. In refusing to serve God, however, Lucifer became the evilest of all the devils and now, his intent is to extinguish that light of God within souls.

On our spiritual journeys, we have an Enemy. We are journeying through this earthly life; one may say we are also battling through it. A priest once said in his homily that, in his opinion, the scariest line of Scripture is something the devil says to Our Lord during the temptation in the desert, when he shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world: “I shall give to you all this power and their glory: for it has been handed over to me …” (Luke 4:6). In this world, the devil is very powerful indeed.

Yet, we have no need to fear. The devil may be powerful, but he is also defeated. Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:18-19). We have quite the armament at our disposal, especially the sacraments and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. If we place our faith in Our Lord, He will indeed deliver us!

Rest assured, no one is alone in this spiritual journey. We each fight the same spiritual battle and we can lift one another up, encouraging each other and providing guidance. My husband and I hope to strengthen people in their faith through our recently published novel, In the Shadows of Freedom. In this Christian dystopian book, our protagonist is very much on a spiritual journey. After having a crisis of faith as a young girl, she embarks on a journey back to faith in God—one that is not without temptation from the evil one. But she comes to realize that she is never alone: God is always beside her. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

Sometimes our world today feels very dystopian. But to those who are troubled by current events, Jesus says, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

And if you are concerned that the translation we use of the Our Father is wrong … rest assured! The original Greek words of the Our Father say deliver us from “the evil.” The article here, in the Greek language, can mean both “evil” and “evil one.” Yes, we have an enemy and evil is something we must battle in our souls every day. But God is with us on this spiritual journey and, as long as we persevere, He will steer this ship to safe, eternal shores.

Cassandra Spellman earned her MA in Theological Studies from St. Bernard’s in 2009. She worked in Youth Ministry and now joyfully ministers to her family: her husband, Chris, and their four—soon to be five—children. Cassandra and Chris recently published a Christian dystopian novel entitled In the Shadows of Freedom. They blog about faith, philosophy, marriage, and literature at SpellmanBooks.com.