Would God Ever Actually Lead Us INTO Temptation?

In a recent post on death and dying, I quoted from the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This brought up a question from a reader about another line in the prayer that has always been a stumper for her. “Lead us not into temptation.” In praying against this eventuality, are we admitting that we believe that God might actually lead us into temptation? Is that even in God’s nature?”

Good question. I thought about saving this one for an extended series of posts on prayer in general (and the Lord’s Prayer in specific) that I’m planning for a couple weeks while I’m away this fall. But, this seems too good to pass up right now.

The notion of God’s tempting someone is more than a little bit confused in Scripture. Jesus is clear that we should never tempt God. And it is a little contrary to the overall “good” nature of God for him to ever be complicit in the kinds of things that lead us down the wrong path. But the Bible seems to say differently with some frequency. Whether it is the dispatching of a “lying spirit” to mislead an Old Testament king, or allowing the Satan to do as he pleases with Job, or hardening the heart of Pharaoh toward the plight of the Hebrews, it appears that God is not always on the side of people getting things worked out correctly.

Or maybe he is. Technically none of the preceding ever involve God actually and personally encouraging someone to choose wrong over right. And even when (as in the case of Abraham and Issac) God tests people y offering them the opportunity to do something different, he always seems to offer them a way out, too. Choosing the right is never really a choice unless the wrong is present, too. So maybe God is as bound as we are when it comes to making sure that he satisfies standards and practices.

I think, though, that we have strayed a bit from the text of the prayer. “Lead us not in to temptation,” is what Jesus suggests that we pray. the structure of the sentiment suggests that Temptation is either a state of being or a place rather than an action on God’s part. Notice, too that all of our examples of God’s tempting are from the Old Testament a source where God has a lot more personality than he does in the time of Jesus or even now. This suggests that while earlier authors were pretty willing to blame their temptations on God, Jesus – and by extension, we – seem to see Temptation as a part of the world into, through, or around which God can lead us or allow us to wander.

So I think , in the end that the question here is less about the nature of God and more about the nature of Temptation and how we allow things like our Prayer-life to influence both. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are stating that we both believe and desire God to be working in our best interest. Moreover, we see bad things in this world not as facets of a capricious and overly human-like God, but as parts of the brokeness of creation around which we pray God to navigate with us. And the more often we pray this way the more likely we are to believe what we pray.

So, gentle reader, I think much of the answer to this question is up to you. What do you want to believe about God? By giving us a model of prayer that includes things like “lead us not into Temptation” it seems pretty clear what Jesus wants us to believe. And I figure he should know what God is really like. So maybe we ought to believe like he wants us to.

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