Would God ever set a perjury trap?
I was a mama’s girl. Shift-dress fashions and my toddler clinginess reached a mutual peak in the early 1970s, allowing me to wrap myself around my mother’s legs in a variety of public contexts with somewhat acceptable decorum. Safety was with her, and her alone – I would go wherever she led me, and nowhere else.
This security was threatened the day my forehead had an unfortunate run-in with a doorknob. I can still recall my bewilderment after my mom led me onto an ER gurney and into the care of a doctor who frightened me. Needing to protect my eyes from his Machiavellian stitchwork, he called the sheath of rubber he stretched over my face a Mickey Mouse mask – a deception I found horrifying and insulting.
Why would my mother lead me into such evil? From the vantage point of adulthood, I see, of course, that she hadn’t led me into evil at all, but into necessary medical care. But my three-year-old self knew only betrayal – and terror.
There is a line in the prayer Jesus taught us that takes me all the way back to that gurney. Sometimes, reciting it, I rub my forehead scar and wonder what Jesus meant.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13, KJV).
The petition has given commentators fits over the centuries. Would God ever actually lead us into temptation, such that we need to ask Him not to? Is He the sort of deity who would set a perjury trap only to watch us stumble into evil?
Less theoretically and more urgently, are we safe to follow God no matter where He leads us?
Of all the work that’s been done with that knotty petition, it’s the perspective of Canadian author and pastor Darrell Johnson that helps me most. Johnson points out that pierasmos – the Greek word translated as temptation in Matthew 6:13 – can also, depending on the context, mean test or trial. When translated as temptation, it refers to a deliberate attempt to ensnare a person in something evil. But when the word is translated as test, it refers to the positive role of trials – the way gold is tested by fire to be both evaluated and refined.
These two different meanings of pierasmos are seen in the first chapter of James. Verses 2–3 read, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." This passage points to the truth that we usually experience the most growth through the hardest stretches. It also reminds us that, if we’ve got a head wound that needs stitching (or a soul that needs curing), we should ultimately be glad to find ourselves on a gurney.
Verse 13, however, reads, "When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone." Here, using the very same Greek word, James is making it clear it’s never God’s intention to lead us into evil.
So why is pierasmos translated as temptation rather than test in Matthew 6:13? Perhaps it’s because, when we find ourselves in tests of various kinds, we’re tempted to misread those situations and think God is no longer for us. Satan took this tact in the wilderness, suggesting to Jesus His trials were evidence God could not be trusted. Fortunately Jesus was too thoroughly acquainted with His Father’s goodness to fall for the lie.
When trials inevitably come, Jesus teaches us to pray that Satan can’t convince us that God has abandoned us. Johnson’s paraphrase of Matthew 6:13 reads, "Father, as you lead us to the test, do not let the test become a temptation, but rescue us from the one who seeks to destroy our faith, and work in us the same confidence in you that Jesus has."
When my stitches were done all those years ago, I climbed right back into my mother’s arms, back to the love I could trust even when the circumstances were confusing. So when Jesus tells me to cling to the love of His Heavenly Father, even and especially in times of trial, I think I understand. Ultimately safety is with Him, and Him alone. It only makes sense to go wherever He leads me – and nowhere else.
Carolyn Arends (www.CarolynArends.com) is a recording artist, author and director of education for Renovaré. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/GoWithGod.