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October 19, 2017

The Lord’s Prayer is a fascinating, deeply complex, and surprisingly simple prayer. This series articles pairs a stained glass window from a small church with each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In each post, we will see how the symbols in the window help us to understand what Jesus says to us when he commands us to pray this chief prayer. Check out the previous posts in this series,  Look up our selection of Lord’s Prayer jewelry to remind you of this wonderful prayer. Check out the previous posts in this series:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. 
Lead us not into temptation
Look up our selection of Lord’s Prayer jewelry to remind you of this wonderful prayer. 

When we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” we pray that God would help us with every problem, pain, and sadness. The window associated with this petition gives us an image of that deliverance. It shows us a ship in a stormy sea, lightning flashing in the distance. You can imagine the wind blowing hard, waves crashing against the bow, and a violent storm threatening to break the ship into pieces.

The ship is a classic Christian image to describe the church. God forms his church as the body of Christ to protect all Christians. In the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” We ask God to save us from all forms of evil, both in body and soul. This petition encapsulates the whole Lord’s prayer, because every petition asks God to deliver us from evil. We are delivered from evil when God’s name is hallowed, when his will is done, when we are lead away from temptation, or when we forgive others as we have been forgiven.

Christians have puzzled with the problem of evil for millennia. They have, and still do, ask the question, “How can God be good, all-powerful, and allow suffering?” You, too, may be asking yourself this question. The world faces various forms of evil all the time. In the United States alone, we see several hurricanes with destructive floods. Fires burn homes, neighborhoods, and industry in California, sometimes moving so quickly that people can’t flee.

When people see this overwhelming evil in the world, or experience terrible suffering in their own lives and families, the problem of evil becomes visceral. It’s no longer a question for theologians and philosophers, the Christian experiences the very question as he or she stands in a hospital room or falls asleep next to an empty pillow. How can a good, loving God allow such suffering?

When we ask this question, it shows an underlying assumption about God and creation. We assume that God is good when we are experiencing the normal level of suffering, but not when we experience extreme suffering. No one denies God’s goodness when we stub our toes, but that is a form of  minor suffering. No one shouts at God when they get an allergic reaction to pet hair, but that is the result of this fallen, sinful world. We ignore the small suffering, because we’re used to it.

What people want from God, when they ask about the problem of evil, is that they want God to limit suffering to an acceptable level. But that isn’t what God wants for us. He wants to save us from every form of suffering. If God had saved every person in Puerto Rico from the devastating hurricane, they would still experience pain. If he had caused rain to fall on the smoldering beginnings of the wildfires in California, people in Napa Valley would still get colds. If he had brought peace to Syria, people would still die.

God wants to end all suffering, from the greatest to the least. He does it through Jesus. Isaiah writes this in chapter 53:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
   smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
   and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.

Jesus took the suffering and pain of the whole world on his own body. His whole life is one of suffering for us. He was whipped, beaten, insulted, humiliated, and nailed to a cross. What terrible suffering he experienced so we could be saved.

But our focus on the cross, while good and holy, looks only to Jesus’ experience of extreme suffering. We also need to remember that he suffered daily from the moment he was conceived. When Jesus became a human, his suffering began. He felt hunger pains. His bladder ached when it was too full. His feet grew tired after a day of walking, and his heart felt daily sadnesses. He had friends who didn’t listen to him, disciples that didn’t understand him, and people who only saw in him what they wanted to see. He suffered all of this for you and for me.

Why? So he could bring salvation to our whole lives. Jesus is not the answer for extreme suffering alone. He didn’t come to save us only from hurricanes, fires, or death. He came to save us from papercuts, from mild seasonal allergies, from nights when anxiety keeps you awake. This list could go on and on. Jesus is God’s answer for all forms of suffering, because he took it all on himself.

We wait, then, for what happened to Jesus to happen to us. When Jesus faced ultimate suffering on the cross, God raised him from the dead to eternal life. No glorified, he suffers no more. We, who have been gathered into the ship of the church, look forward to the same gift. When Jesus returns, he will raise us from the dead and give us eternal life. Then, the problem of evil will finally end.

Isaiah summarizes it this way in chapter 25:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
  of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
   the covering that is cast over all peoples,
  the veil that is spread over all nations.
  He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
   and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
  for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
   “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
  This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
  let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

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