Deliver us from evil.Said positively:
Keep us safe.First, safe from sin, our own personal evil. It is the source of so much sorrow in our lives, that we say and do things that hurt us as we hurt others. Adultery kills a marriage and even if the couple does not divorce there is no safety, emotional or economic, in an adulterated marriage. Take something that does not belong to you and trust is destroyed, hurting both the victim and thief. Lie and nothing is ever the same between two, even if the lie is never discovered. Control somebody else with guilt or borrowed money or threats or verbal tricks and we have created a slave and a slave owner, neither good, the last worst.
Even the small betrayals and hurts burn something away from our safety. All of us sin. By what we do and by what we leave undone. And every evil we do, no matter how small, takes from us or our brother or sister or neighbor a fraction of trust, of safety, no matter how small. It is who we are, sinners. So it is evil, our own evil, that makes us unsafe. Sin, our own sin, endangers us, not only in the next world but in this one.
What delivers us from evil? Goodness, goodness that can only come from forgiveness, repentance, and a new mind. What keeps our families safe? Love, love active in work, conversation, honorable behavior.
There are also many sorrows in our lives that are not caused by sin. What killed 200,000 people in the Haiti earthquake? The earth? God? A good answer would be neither, it was the poor building practices that killed. But some one built those buildings, and people paid rent to live in them. Human blindness and error kills, not the earth, not the sky, not the sea. Not the external bad thing but the internal evil of all of us. Disease kills, especially children. It is too easy to say that sin causes disease, not just easy but wrong. For personal disasters it is true all too often that our own personal evils cause our own personal sorrows. But natural disasters, disease and birth defects and floods and forest fires and volcanoes, are not caused by our personal sin. But on the other hand, all of these horrible things do present an opportunity to do good. Here the sin too often comes before the tragedy, the sin of shrugging our shoulders, saying it is the will of some pagan god or fate, and claiming we can do nothing about it. Fire in the woods: let it burn, keep doing foolish things with undergrowth and not logging? Or apply experience and science and preparation to prevent and contain this deadly conflagration? Floods: Do we build in a flood plain and then beg money time after time when we are wiped out? Earthquakes may some day be predictable,
Go science! but until then do we hold accountable those who ignore the danger and build on sand?
Natural disasters, even disease and war, are opportunities for us to help our lord keep us safe, both ourselves and our neighbors. Our God will answer this prayer by actions delegated through us and so we had better stay alert for whatever beasts and dangers lie ahead of our families, our town, and our species. He keeps us safe by giving us the freedom and abilities to do science and create wealth so we know what to do and can afford to do it. But we still have to do it, in His Name.
The example of building well is easy, so is the example of moving off of the flood plain or getting vaccinated. And our civilization of freedom and personal responsibility, under girded by biblical religion, has certainly made us physically safer than any other time in history. Or prehistory. But focus closer to home for the most important safety features of a godly life.
If it is sin that makes us unsafe (ours and other people's, alcoholism and thief, sloth and cheating), then the cure is not more money or a new law. The only cure for sin is repentance with a new life of character and love for others. Now, not all of our fellow citizens will kneel in repentance but at least we can use the ordinary and natural systems of human society to keep their sin in check and encourage their good behavior. For example, evil hates marriage because marriage strengthens goodness. Evil hates to hear people keep their word because honor and truth lubricate social and economic good. This is the very heart of the Prayer, reciprocal good replacing reciprocal evil.
Men and women are not designed and built by society, but rather men and women generate their society. The most broken people are those who live under artificial systems that deny their humanity. The natural systems of human society, our heritage as the Image of God, are based on a few principles easy to say but complex and difficult to carry out. First principle: All is free, nothing for free. Free speech, yes; free beer, no. The free beer, as in government provided housing, food, and medical care; is obviously harmful because of what it does to the human character. A society of surfs and irresponsible people is not safe or wealthy. It is a short step from taking other people's money by majority vote to taking it from them by fraud or gun. Of course, some will face hunger or homelessness. We need, we must, help those folks, not to a free lunch but to an opportunity to work for food, like we all do, every day. The irony is that the more we take from the working people to give to those who do not work, the less opportunity the society has for productive work, creating yet more poverty.
But what does freedom have to do with this? We like to regulate behavior. Only so much water per flush, at least this many miles gallon, only build here and not there, on and on. It sounds nice but sooner or later it backfires with a very bad unintended consequence: no one pays attention to the results of their choices, no one thinks about the economies of their products, no one looks ahead to the outcomes of their decisions. Our character as a nation declines because our betters have predicted and protected us from every single thing that could go wrong. We come to believe we are safe because we have obeyed the regulations and fail to understand that we are only safe when all of us pay close attention to what we are doing and how it effects other people. For the business man, this means take care of our customers or we will not have customers. We cannot sell anything to a dead customer. For labor, it means adding up what we demand far into the future so that all our fellow citizens will have an open, fair, and free economy. We cannot get a pension from a bankrupt company or city or nation. When macro decisions control micro actions the whole system breaks. It is the exact opposite of the price mechanism of the free market, where micro actions communicate information that makes macro decisions.
No one is safe without human society. We depend on one as a hunter and another as a scribe, to thousands of roles and jobs and skills that provide us with the wealth and ability to keep each other safe, to deliver us from evil, either natural or man made. Know this as an article of faith, that a division of labor and a free human society are gifts from our God, the Will of our God, and the goal of this most sacred of prayers.
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