(At the beginning of his exposition Professor Barth warned his hearers that he did not propose to confine himself to a historical summary of the Reformers' teaching on the Lord's Prayer, but that, having carefully studied the writings of Luther and Calvin and thoroughly assimilated their thought, he would allow himself to treat the texts with a certain freedom.-Ed)
1. Our Father in Heaven
We are bidden to pray. This presupposes everything that has been said above about prayer in general. But this is the important point : we are told to pray : Our Father who art in heaven. It is Jesus Christ who bids us call on God and address him as our Father; Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, who has made himself our brother and makes us his brothers. He takes us with him, to make us his companions, and places us at his side, so that we may live and act as his brothers and members of his body. He says to us, 'Follow me.'
The 'Our Father' is not just any form of prayer to be used by anyone, no matter who; it presupposes 'us': Our Father; one who is a Father to us in a unique way. This 'us' derives from Jesus Christ's command to follow him; it implies that the man who prays is in communion with Jesus Christ and dwells in the brotherhood of the sons of God. Jesus Christ calls, allows, commands man to be joined with him, more especially in his intercession with God, his Father. Jesus Christ calls us, commands us, allows us to speak with him to God, to pray his prayer with him, to be united with him in the Lord's Prayer, and thus to adore God, to pray to God and to praise him with one voice and one soul in union with Christ himself.
This 'us', moreover, means that the man who prays is in communion with all those who are in his company and who, like him, are bidden to pray; who have received the same call, the same command, the same permission to pray at Christ's side. We pray 'Our Father' in the fellowship of that company, that congregation which we call the Church (the ecclesia).
But while we are in communion with the saints, the ecclesia of those who are gathered together by Jesus Christ, we are also in communion with those who, perhaps, do not pray as yet but for whom Christ prays, since he prays for all mankind. Mankind is the object of his intercession and we, therefore, enter into this communion with all mankind. When Christians pray, they are, so to speak, substitutes for all those who do not pray; and, in this sense, they are in communion with them, in the same way as Jesus Christ has made himself one with sinful man and lost humanity.
Our Father: thou who hast begotten us, brought us into being by thy Word and thy Spirit; thou who art our Father because thou hast created us, the Lord of the Covenant which thou hast been pleased to make with man, thou in whom and with whom our life began, and in whom it finds its completion.
Our Father :on whom our whole existence in time and eternity depends; God the Father, whose glory is our inheritance, whom we may freely approach, like children to their father!
Our Father, thou who by nature art always ready to hear us and to answer us. But we constantly forget it.... We may deny God, but he can never forget us or deny us. The Father, by his very nature, is faithful; he is high above us for ever and his good will towards us can never change.
That is what God is to us. But we must admit that we have no right to address him thus, to be his children or to approach him in this way. He is our Father and we are his children in virtue of the natural relationship which exists between him and Jesus Christ, in virtue of that fatherhood and that sonship which actually existed in the person of Jesus Christ, and which have reality for us in him. We are his children and he is our Father in virtue of that new birth accomplished at Christmas, on Good Friday and at Easter, and made effective at our baptism. A new birth, that is to say, a completely new order of being, a life entirely different from what our human potentialities or merits could produce.
God our Father means our merciful Father; we ourselves are and always will be prodigal sons who can claim no rights save the one given to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
This does not imply any diminution of what has been said about the divine fatherhood. The splendour and the certainty, the very greatness and majesty of our Father are manifested in the fact that we stand before him without power or worth, without real faith and with empty hands. And yet, in Christ, we are God's children. We can contribute nothing whatever of our own to make the reality of that sonship more certain : divine reality alone is the fulness of all reality.
Jesus Christ is the source and the warrant for the divine Fatherhood and our sonship; for this reason that fatherhood and that sonship are incomparably superior to all the relationships among ourselves which we denote by the terms father, son, children. These human relationships are not the original of which the other could be the image or symbol. The true and original fatherhood and sonship subsist in the bonds which God has created between himself and us. Anything that exists among us is only the image of that original sonship. When we call God our Father, we are not using symbols, but are experiencing the full reality of the words 'father' and 'son'.
Who art in heaven. Heaven is part of the created world; that part of creation which is on high, unapproachable, incomprehensible. This means that God, who is high above and beyond the heavens, is also the Father of Jesus Christ, in whom he loves the world. If God is described as boundless, incomprehensible, free, sovereign, eternal, omnipotent, transcendent, the true meaning of these words does not derive from any idea or abstraction intended to define the opposite of what is limited, comprehensible and temporal. All these attributes derive their real meaning from the goodness of the heavenly Father who has made himself our Father in Jesus Christ. Here lies the meaning of his transcendence, his existence beyond the heavens. No philosophy, whether that of Aristotle, Kant, or Plato, can apprehend the transcendence of God, for philosophers can only reach the edge of that incomprehensible which is far higher than ourselves. All philosophy finds its turning point in the heavens; but the Gospel speaks to us of him who is in heaven and beyond the heavens. No spiritualist, idealist or existentialist can lead us to the reality of God in his transcendence, which is not the same as spirit or invisibility. God's transcendence is displayed, revealed, and actualised in Jesus Christ, the depth of his omnipotent mercy.
God exists supremely in heaven, which is his throne; there he confronts our desires, our needs, great and small, our ideals, our principles, our wisdom and our stupidity, our humanism and our brutishness. There is the judge, the king whose subjects we are, who reigns, at times in opposition to us, but nevertheless over us always. He is ever the same and yet never the same for he is new every morning; he is present to us at every moment, and he is eternal only by being present to us. He is free grace and gracious freedom, the one to whom all things are subject and all is entrusted; in whose hands everything can and must be of use, has been and will be used. This is the one to whom we speak, not on our own initiative but because we are bidden and called to do so. We are at liberty to approach him, but this liberty is his gift, it does not belong to us by nature. It is the liberty of the children of God, the liberty of the Word and the Spirit.
2. The Petitions
Let us begin by considering the petitions as a whole. We note that the arrangement of these petitions is, in a sense, analogous to that of the Ten Commandments : there is a very distinct difference between the first three and the last three; the former correspond to the first four Commandments and the latter to Commandments five to ten. The first three petitions are concerned with the glory of God; this is where the 'Our Father' begins. Thus we are permitted, or rather commanded, to commit ourselves to God's cause, to pray that this cause - God's name, his kingdom, his will may triumph and so reach its fulfilment. God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ as one who, while enjoying perfect freedom and self-sufficiency, yet does not will to be alone. He does not desire to act, exist, live, labour, work, strive and conquer, reign and triumph apart from man. Therefore it is not his will that his cause should be his alone; he desires it to be man's cause also.
Can there really be atheists, men without God? At all events, even if there are men without God, there cannot be, in Christian terms, God without men. It is very important to realize this : God has been with us, he is with us, Emmanuel ! He permits us, he commands us to pray, as in these first three petitions we are bidden to do, for the triumph of his cause. He invites us to take part in his work, in his government of the Church and of the world. When we pray, `May thy Name . . . thy Kingdom . . . thy Will . . .', we put ourselves on God's side, no less. God invites us to unite ourselves with his purposes and his actions, and it should be noted that this invitation comes at the beginning and is repeated at the end, in the doxology.
On these three petitions depend the liberty, the joy, the eagerness and the assurance of the other supplications. All our entreaties presuppose that we desire to take our part in the cause of God. Anyone who refused to do so, who had no concern for God's cause, would not know how to pray for the forgiveness of his sins or for his daily bread; he would not understand what it meant. We cannot live with God unless we are in agreement with his purposes, with his cause, which includes ours and all others. Otherwise we might as well try to stand in mid air. We must have ground to walk on, and in prayer we walk on the ground of these first three petitions. It is not surprising that so many prayers echo in a void and are not heard or answered. And yet everything would be quite simple if it were understood that one must begin at the beginning; there is no other way of praying.
The last three petitions concern us directly and vitally; they relate to our comfort, our good will, and our salvation, bodily as well as spiritual and heavenly. Because God, in Jesus Christ, has united our cause (the important and the trifling problems of our life) to his own, we are permitted, we are indeed commanded, to appeal now quite simply on our own behalf. And here our whole life is at stake. We are not merely given leave, but we are ordered to bring to God and entrust to him all our baggage (for we do not journey through this world without amassing a very complicated collection f baggage). We can entrust to God all this impedimenta-temporal, material and secular as well as eternal, Christian, ecclesiastical and theological.
In Jesus Christ the human being is revealed; in him humanity becomes pre-eminently a creature which cannot exist or act by itself; it cannot live without God; it can neither eat nor drink, love nor hate; it cannot justify or save itself, sorrow or rejoice, hope or despair, experience, success or failure. It is thanks to God that we exist among his creatures. Thus, in fact, there are no men without God. There are people who believe themselves to be atheists, and cling firmly to that idea. But this makes no difference whatever; man as such does not exist apart from God; he may behave like a naughty child that screams and scolds its mother - but the mother is still there.
This is not a philosophical concept. It is doubtful whether the statement, `man does not exist without God' could be convincingly explained apart from faith in Jesus Christ. But once we have understood what Jesus Christ is, we understand what man is and how he cannot be separated from God. Because, therefore, there cannot be man without God (for atheism is an absurd invention), God commands us to pray; God shares in all our concerns, in our needs, our cares, our sorrows and our expectations. When we pray, Give us our bread, we plainly declare what our life really is; we admit, what is indeed the truth, that without him we are nothing. And this command, this invitation to pray to him, to make our cause one with his, is a plain declaration of what is : God bids us and commands us to place ourselves at the side of Jesus Christ who deigned to assume humanity. He was God and he became man. Thus he concerns himself with everything, great and small - and especially the small things - with which we are concerned.
Man's cause - his material needs and his salvation - comes after God's. But it should be noted that there is no question here of optional requests. The first three petitions would certainly not exist were it not for the last three, which are as indispensable as the others. The man who did not go on praying the last three petitions would not be praying sincerely, for he too must have his place, since his own cause is involved, all he is, with his temperament, his nerves and the rest. He is not there on account of God's cause only; he needs must bring his own also and make it enter into God's. It would be dangerous, therefore, to omit the last three petitions, for then there would be, on the one hand, an ecclesiastical, theological and metaphysical sphere and, on the other, a sphere concerned with money, sex, business and social relations. There would be two compartments. But, whether we like it or not, there is only one compartment and nothing is more fatal than the illusory notion of two compartments. You know how often ministers imagine that there are these two : this contrast between God's cause and ours. But in fact they are bound together, and we pray for both at once. This is so because it is Jesus Christ who bids us pray with him and in him these two causes are one. It is important, therefore, to understand not only the difference between the two parts of the Lord's prayer, but also their unity.
Let us recall that Luther, in his Shorter Catechism, lays stress, in an interesting and enlightening manner, on this paradox : that God's actions take the same course as our prayer; he sanctifies his name, his kingdom comes, his will is done, he gives us our bread, he forgives us; and he does all this before we ask it. We speak to him who has heard us before we have said anything to him. Let us not forget this-and Luther was right to say so-it is Jesus Christ who prays and we join in his intercession. It is he whom God hears, and his prayer has been heard since the beginning of the world from eternity to eternity; all is already in order. In the first part of this book I stressed, as Luther and Calvin did, the fundamental facts of prayer and response. Let us begin by understanding this : we are heard in the name of Jesus Christ. Everything is already there when we approach God.
Luther says, concerning the Lord's Prayer, that we must take our part in God's activity. God is working for his glory and our salvation, and we should profit by his action, not as spectators nor yet by assuming the part of indispensable fellow-workers, but by praying and by concerning ourselves with him and with what he is doing. This is real collaboration. He bids us approach him in the knowledge that his cause and ours are one, for our cause is embraced by his. We men come to him, therefore, and stand before him, prepared to live in the total concord of these two causes. All is contained within the liberty and the sovereignty of God. This is not necessity or fate, but God is our Father and he wills that we should be with him.
3. Hallowed Be Thy Name
When we speak of God's `name', we mean that which represents the glory of God in the created world. Not simply and directly to be identified with God himself, the name is the representation of God. Because the created world is the theatre where the glory of God is displayed (Calvin), the world is a creature merely; in certain conditions (which do not depend on itself), it can become the bearer of God's name (though not in any strict philosophical sense). There may be in the world signs, as it were, of God's name, indications of the presence of God himself, and if so, it might be said that these signs are not invisible but are illuminated like the advertisements in our cities, illuminated by Revelation.
Our eyes are opened for us to see them; the world is God's world, and therefore his name can be written on it; the universe can sing his praise; everything that God has created can bear the name of its Creator.
And now let us ask ourselves; Is that name visible? Is it revealed? Are these signs illuminated? Are our eyes and ears opened? Is his name hallowed? We realize that such a consummation is not within the power of any created thing; creation cannot, of itself, become the bearer of the Divine name. The world as such has no power to reveal God; neither is man, as such, capable of receiving a revelation whether through sight, hearing or understanding. It is God who speaks aright of God (Pascal). God by his own action-at once objective and subjective-causes himself to be seen, and is seen, known, and truly recognized, and he enables us to live in this world in his presence, knowing and recognizing him. This Divine action becomes real for us in prayer.
The prayer `Hallowed be thy name' implies that the name of God is known to him who prays, for no one prays for something which he does not know. This presupposes that the name of God is already hallowed (as Luther said). Thus, in this special situation of those who pray the 'Our Father' with Jesus Christ, we also attempt in prayer, to obey his command to follow him. And as we pray with Jesus Christ we are not unaware of the hallowing of God's name in the past as well as in the present.
This prayer is, then, a response before we formulate it. We would not be Christians praying with Jesus Christ if our prayer meant that we knew nothing of that hallowing. In fact we are praying that what is happening already through God's action may continue and reach its fulfilment. The words Hallowed be thy name should therefore be written in this way : 'this name is already hallowed', for this presupposition is the basis of prayer.
Our Father in heaven, thou hast spoken to us. In thy Son, who is thy Word, thou hast made thyself palpable and accessible to us in the flesh, in this world. The signs of thy name are luminous; we are not alone in this world, for thou dost show thyself to us in a human form so that we can understand what thou sayest to us. We do not live in a world without God. Thy prophets and apostles speak to us on the level of our own life and we hear them. Thy Church, the assembly of those whom thou hast called and still dost gather together, lives on earth and has survived through many centuries, in the midst of countless upheavals, in fear and weakness; and, in spite of all that can be said about its faults, we have heard thy voice through thy Church and its work.
We are baptized, we have our being in that Church, among thy children, being ourselves thy children, and among thy missionaries whom thou hast charged to proclaim thy word, and one cannot be a child of God without being a missionary. We are free to believe, to will, to obey. This means that the world-this world in which we live and our own lives with their limitations, their burdens, their difficulties, their problems and those of our neighbours - all this can no longer be for us an insoluble mystery. There are mysteries in plenty but we do not live in a mystery of utter darkness, we are not surrounded by nothingness. The doctrine of Sartre and Heidegger, which would plunge us again into paganism, is not true. We know that in this world and in human history one thing is certain : the signs of thy presence are shining lights : Jesus Christ died and rose again for us, and not for us only but for the whole world. Thus man's hope lies in this fact that God loved the world. Such is the reality made manifest in the death and resurrection of the Lord. And we live in the recollection of that fact and in the expectation of the general resurrection. This is the sense in which we say that God's name is already hallowed; this is the Christian position. The key to the mystery is in our hands.
To continue : because this key is given to us, because the name of God is already hallowed, we have all the more reason to pray : 'Hallowed be thy name.' That is to say, that it may be granted to us and to the world-this world which is neither better nor worse than we are, and in which we thy creatures have the privilege of knowing thee and being called to thy service-that it may be granted to us to profit by thine incomparable gift; that the word thou hast spoken through thy Son may not have been spoken in vain; that thy Church may know how to make the most of its life, that it may be delivered from all Romanizing reaction and all impatient Americanism, from fear and cowardice, from pride and cant; that we may give up dipping into the Bible instead of reading it; that there may be less quoting from the Bible and more living with it and letting it speak to us. We pray that the Bible will not cease to be important to us, that it may never bore us, that no part of thy word shall become, in our minds or on our lips, a tedious matter, a poor sermon, bad teaching or bad theology. This is all very simple but also very necessary.
Luther has explained at some length that this hallowing must manifest itself in preaching; a bad sermon has just the opposite effect. May the Word of God become for us each day anew the Word of God; may it be not a truth, a principle, something laid upon a table, but a living person, something of the greatest mystery and the greatest simplicity ! And may the signs of God's name and God's word be made visible through us and among us by the austerity and the serenity of our lives, our behaviour, and our habits. We pray that it may be granted to us to display in our lives that great joy and peace which we so often talk about, so that others may notice them. We pray that the pride and ignorance and unbelief by which Christians continually dishonour God may be checked and suppressed, if only a little.
May this key which has been placed in our hands be turned even a little, so that one day the door can be opened! This is the hallowing of God's name. We can see that there is reason to pray for these good things and this consummation, so that what still remains to be done and what we ourselves cannot do, shall come to pass. But in order that all this may be brought about, God himself must intervene, for his cause is at stake. We who are responsible are so ill-qualified to uphold this cause. How overwhelming is our responsibility in this undertaking; and how absolutely necessary it is for God himself to intervene lest we should be found among those foolish virgins who had no oil !
4. Thy Kingdom Come
We have to go somewhat farther than the Reformers, who failed, here as elsewhere, to perceive the eschatological character of that reality which is the Kingdom of God?( I.e., that the Kingdom comes with the end of the world as we know it.) We shall, therefore, give a slightly amended version of their teaching.
The Kingdom of God, in the New Testament, is the life and purpose of the world in accordance with the intentions of the Creator; it is the effective and appointed defence against the inevitable consequence of sin, against the mortal danger, the annihilation which lay in wait for the world because it is merely a creature. The Kingdom of God is the final victory over sin; it is the reconciliation of the world with God (II Cor. 5.19). And the consequence of that reconciliation is a new world, a new age, a new heaven and a new earth, which are new because they have entered into and are enfolded by the peace of God.
The Kingdom of God is the righteousness of God, the Creator and the Lord who justifies and triumphs. The destiny and purpose of the world is the coming of the Kingdom : 'thy Kingdom come'. Clearly we are once more confronted with a consummation which infinitely exceeds our powers, since all we are and all we can do, even in the most favourable conditions, is threatened by the same danger. We ourselves are in need of that deliverance, that victory, that reconciliation, that renewal. The coming of the Kingdom is in no sense dependent on our power; we are no more able to assist its coming than is creation itself, which is the image of what we are and can do. But it is for us an object of prayer. God alone, who created the world, can bring about its completion in that act of fulfilment in which he vindicates himself and his cross. The Kingdom means the peace and righteousness of the world brought to perfection, and this can only come to pass by the work of God. We must therefore pray that his Kingdom may come and that he may cause the bell to sound the hour of crisis.
But saying to God 'Thy Kingdom come' presupposes that he who prays thus has some knowledge of that Kingdom, that life, that righteousness, that newness, that reconciliation; that these things are not without meaning for him. He must know also that wherever this prayer is offered the Kingdom has already come.
Once again we are in the amazing position of those who pray 'Our Father' in the fellowship of Jesus Christ and those who are his. Thy Kingdom come is equivalent to 'Thy Kingdom is already come; thou hast established it in our midst.' 'The Kingdom of God is among you' (Luke 17.21). Thou, God the Father, hast accomplished all things in Jesus Christ; in him thou hast reconciled the world to thyself!
St Paul does not speak of this reconciliation as a future event. He says 'He has reconciled'; it is done. In Jesus Christ thou hast abolished sin and all its consequences; thou hast destroyed all alien and hostile powers. 'I saw Satan like lightning fall from heaven' (Luke 10.18). Thou hast removed the mortal peril which threatened our lives. Thou, 0 God, in Jesus Christ didst become the new man who will never die. It is done. In him thy Kingdom has appeared in this world, in all the depth and height of its glory, undiminished and unconcealed.
In Jesus Christ the world has reached its end and its goal. Thus, the last judgment and the resurrection of the dead have already been wrought in him; this is not only an event to be awaited, it is already behind us. When the Church speaks of Jesus Christ, when she proclaims his word, when she believes the Gospel and makes it known to the heathen, and when she prays to God, she looks back to her Lord who is already come. She calls to mind Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost. These are not just some historical events to which we may attach a religious significance (with the private conviction that in itself this is of no importance). On the contrary, this is everything that has ever happened and is behind us. We proclaim the Word made flesh and the Kingdom of God which has come. The Church is not and cannot be insistent if she does not rejoice, if she is in doubt. A sorrowful and gloomy Church is not the Church ! For the Church is built on him who was made flesh, who came to say the last word (not the last but one). This last word has already been uttered and on it our life depends; nothing in it can be changed. The age which began with Christmas and Easter cannot be reversed.
What does this mean when we truly understand it and live by it? It means that we have all the more reason to pray : Thy Kingdom come! There is no contradiction here, and one for whom these things are true is well aware of it; that is why he prays.
It means also that God's great initiative on behalf of man, which began at Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, must be resumed so that it may not be simply something that is past and behind us; for we do not live by looking backwards only, but by looking forward also. It must come, the future must bear the stamp of the past, our past must become our future, and the Lord who has come must come again.
We pray for the removal of the covering which now conceals all things, as a cloth covers a table; the table is underneath though you cannot see it, but the cloth has only to be removed for the table to be seen. We pray that the covering which still veils the reality of the Kingdom may be removed, so that the reality of all those things which have already been changed in Jesus Christ may be seen. Here is the profoundest depth of God's truth, which immeasurably surpasses all else. Our private lives and the lives of our families, the life of the Churches, political events-these are the veil behind which lies reality. As yet we do not see face to face, but only dim reflections as in a mirror. We cannot be sure where we stand when we read the papers, not even the religious papers. So that we may see what truly is, 'thy Kingdom' must come, Jesus Christ must become visible, as he was at Easter, as he showed himself to his apostles. He will be, he is even now, head of the new mankind of the new world. We know this, but as yet we do not see it; we are waiting to see it; we walk by faith, not yet by sight.
May the radiance of God, manifested in Jesus Christ, in his life, his death, and his resurrection, shine upon us, on our whole life and on all things! May the secret of earthly life be revealed, that secret which has already been revealed though as yet we do not see it-hence the anxiety, the cares, the false ideas and the despairs in which we live! We do not understand, and we pray that it may be granted to us to see and understand.
To return now to the interpretation of the Reformers. When we pray, may it be granted to us also to see, even now, at least the first signs of that new age and of that victory which is already won; may the dawn of the universal day enable us to see ourselves and others, and the incidents of our history, in the light of that which is to come. This total revelation, this apokalypsis (I Pet. 1.13), will be given to us. May our faith in him who has come be made alive! This can only come to pass if faith is founded on what has happened in the past and looks towards what is to come, which will reveal the universality of what he has accomplished. May it be granted to us to live in that hope. It is not possible to say : Thy Kingdom come !' if we are without hope for our own time, for today and tomorrow. The great Future with a capital F is also a future with a small f. This is enough to make us realize, at least in part, how totally inadequate is everything we do in this present time; it brings home to us the triviality of so many of the conflicts in which we are engaged, especially our private, psychological conflicts which, ultimately, are quite unnecessary. But to understand this, we must be able to see the Kingdom which is to come; psychologists cannot help us. One day the sun will rise and full knowledge will be ours. We have only to wait till Easter becomes actual for all the world; then we shall have no more need of psychologists because there will be perfect health. It is astonishing to note how we Swiss - even more ingenuously than other modern Europeans-occupy ourselves with psychology, whereas in Germany, for example, all such conflicts have disappeared under the pressure of life and its demands. When there is life, there are no more psychological problems.
We pray that it may be granted to us to see the futility of this tragic sense, which befits pagans but not Christians; that we may live in serenity, with good will, and in charity which constrains no one but has the power to attract everyone in some measure.
A variant reading in the Lucan text of the Lord's Prayer (Codex Bezae) adds the words : 'That thy Holy Spirit may come upon us and purify us.' Even though only the accepted texts of Matthew and Luke are authentic, this variant is interesting and provides a fitting commentary on the text. If we pray for the coming of God's Kingdom we are also praying that the Holy Spirit may enter into us. The Reformers' interpretation of the second petition suggests that they had taken account of this variant, and surely they were right, but only if the words 'thy Kingdom' are understood to mean not a perfect Church but the end of the whole present order and the advent of a new order of existence. Happily, in the Kingdom of God there will be no more need of the Church, for Jesus Christ will have completed what he has begun. We must still pray to God because his cause is at stake. His commandments constantly remind us of his patience towards us. During this anxious time of his long-suffering, which we must endure before the Kingdom comes, how necessary it is that God should utter his word and sound the warning bell ! Indeed, the end must come ! May God fulfil his promises and may we lay hold of them as the promises of God. Thy Kingdom come - this Kingdom that has come already! Such is our prayer -simple, constant and very near to him.
5. Thy Will be Done
Now we return to the present which, like the past, is also the realm of God's will, the realm in which the plan is being carried out whereby he purposes to vindicate and glorify himself as Creator and Lord, and at the same time to vindicate and glorify his creature; that creature who, in comparison with him, is so small, so weak and in such peril, so prone to failure because he is stained with sin, lost, reduced to nothingness. But it is God's will to preserve and save his creature and to complete his work by the manifestation f his Kingdom.
May thy will . . . May the plan be carried out, may it be effective now, between the beginning and the end; may the time in which we live not pass by in vain. But this consummation cannot be achieved by us; we cannot carry out this will of God; his is the plan and its execution, his the time, both present and to come and all that time holds within it. Thus we are confronted for the third time with something to be prayed for : that God will deign to concern himself with us and with this world; that he will not cease to be patient, that he will reign even to the end. But, while we pray thus, we must recognize that it is being done, that God is engaged in carrying out his will and making it effective. We are praying to our Father in communion with Jesus Christ and therefore we know that his will is already done.
As in heaven . . . I hope I am not misinterpreting these words. Thy will, Eternal God, is already done as thou hast intended it; it has been done, it will be done and it will work itself out in the course of time! Before we speak, this will has been done where God is, in the mystery of what has taken place and is taking place in his presence. It was done in the creation, in his ordering of the world from the beginning; in the history of his covenant, which gives the true meaning of everything that has happened; that covenant as the prophets and apostles understood it, and the evidence of which is given us in Jesus Christ. Thy will as it is known to thee, as it is seen by thine angels, as it exists 'at thy right hand', as we believe it to be although we do not see it, is done and is being done unceasingly in heaven.
It is done as it ought to be done, with full understanding, without hindrance or frustration, in full liberty and so that grace reigns supreme and the creature responds in thankful recognition. Thus it is done in Jesus Christ; in heaven it is perfectly fulfilled. And this we believe and know by the word of Jesus Christ, whose spirit instructs us and assures us of it. His will has been done and is being done for ever.
There is, therefore, all the more reason to pray that it may be done on earth as it is in heaven; that it may be effective in our world and in our lives, so far as we can know it, veiled as it is; that the doing of his will on earth may follow the pattern of its execution in heaven. This means : may the light and shade, the mingling of secular and religious history, of saintliness and stupidity, of wisdom and vulgarity so characteristic of our existence, may all this confusion be cleared away ! In heaven his will is perfectly done; then why not among us?
May this mingling of light and darkness not endure for ever; may we cease to misunderstand and oppose thy purposes; may we cease to contradict and constantly to misrepresent the Gospel so as to make it into a new law; may we give up behaving like bad servants; may we profit by thy patience and be converted instead of toying with a humanistic Christianity and a Christian humanism and continually provoking thy wrath afresh. In the execution of thy plan, deliver us from the endless imperfection of our obedience; come and set us free and extricate us at last from the contradictions by which we are beset, although we know that thy will is done and how it is done in heaven.
Once again, God's cause is at stake; and we are committed to his cause as he is to ours. His cause cannot be alien to us. We live in the present, within time; but time is very short, life goes by so quickly; there is not a moment to lose and we lose so many ! What can be expected of the world if we Christians are so heedlessly earthly, so well satisfied with our imperfections, so much at ease when it should not be possible to be at ease. God reigns, and we pray that he will cause us to reign with him, no less.
6. The Last Three Petitions
First we should note a change of attitude in the second part of the Lord's Prayer, which begins with the request, Give us . In the first three petitions, although, while we pray, we are in some sort of relation with the heavenly Father, our prayer is like a sigh; we are dazzled by the majesty of that which fills our minds - the name, the kingdom, the will of God himself; we pray from afar, not daring to address him directly; 'may thy name, thy kingdom, thy will ..: With the last three petitions we come to prayer properly speaking. But this change, though real, is, as we shall see, in keeping with the first three petitions.
Here two observations may be made
I. The us of the `Our Father' now becomes explicit and clearly heard. The words our, we or us occur eight times in these three verses. We may recall that the us of the Lord's Prayer is, so to speak, created by Christ's invitation and command : 'Follow me.' We are those who would learn to pray with Jesus Christ.
In this connexion four points may be noticed.
(a) The us refers to the brotherhood of those who are with Jesus Christ, God and Man, who allows and commands them to join with him in his own intercession with God, that is, to pray with him.
And (b), it is the us of the brotherhood which unites men to one another, even as they are united to Jesus Christ, by the same permission and commandment. This brotherhood, however, is not a closed one; it is open inasmuch as it is involved with this world and represents it, including in that word 'world' those who have not yet heard and obeyed the Lord's invitation.
(c) The us of the last three petitions is that of a united community which thinks and acts as one body and knows, through profound experience, the wretchedness, of man's state. Nevertheless, in the midst of this wretchedness, of which it is well aware, this community is free to call on God in communion with Jesus Christ risen from the dead and with the common accord of its members, and to ask from our Father in heaven, the sovereign Creator, Lord, and Saviour, a complete and final deliverance, knowing that this Sovereign can and will grant it.
(d) It is the us of those who, being united with Jesus Christ crucified, are able to pray with him as members of God's family and, for that very reason, know, as no one else can, the extent of their own wretchedness and the wretchedness of the world, the depth of wickedness and the incurable sorrows of human existence, the downfall and ruin of God's good creation. They know that man cannot, by his own determination and his own efforts, extricate himself from this situation; they know that it is absolutely necessary to return to God and trust in him alone; in short, they realize the impossibility of living without God's free grace. Observe that us means those who, implicitly and silently, have already prayed the first three petitions concerned with God's cause and his glory. In the last three petitions the same people (us) put forward their own cause.
2. A second observation. Now, in these three petitions, prayer becomes explicit, direct, and insistent. It is one thing to pray : May thy name . . . thy kingdom . . . thy will . . . , and quite another to say : Give us today .. . forgive us . . . lead us not . . . deliver us . . . Note the boldness, I might even say the effrontery, of this demand. Here is a man who dares to put God to the trouble of concerning himself with human affairs, who dares to issue orders; how can such a thing be? Our answer is : we are the only ones who are allowed, even commanded, in the first three petitions, to concern ourselves with God's affairs, with the hallowing of his name, the advent of his Kingdom, the doing f his will.
Is this our business? Certainly it is; we are permitted to concern ourselves with it. God has accepted us as fellowworkers (this is a biblical term); he has made his cause ours. And now, in consequence of those first three petitions, it is, so to speak, quite natural for us to call on God in the terms of the three petitions that follow. We are saying : Our Father, behold us; thou seest us as we are and, it would seem, in the condition in which thou desirest to meet with us. We are concerned about thy cause (assuming that we are in earnest in our prayer), burning with the desire to see thy name hallowed. We have no other task; this is our care. There is no question of our being able to help ourselves; any such thought could only be faithlessness, disloyalty, disobedience. Therefore we place our lives in thy hands, who hast bidden us and commanded us to pray and to live for thy sake. Look on us, and do thou make our human cause thy care.
Here is the source from which springs the audacity of these three petitions. They express this movement of thought : by asking God to give us what we need, both inwardly and outwardly, in order to live, we comply with his command to serve him for his glory.
In the first three petitions, Jesus Christ asks us to join him in his fight for God's cause and, at the same time, he invites us to join in his victory over the world and over everything which would prevent the realization of the longings expressed in those petitions. Jesus Christ has conquered and now he invites us to share in his victory. So that we may be free to utter those longings-May thy name . . thy Kingdom ... thy will . . . we avail ourselves of Christ's invitation to take part in his victory. Here is the right and sufficient reason for what I have called the boldness and effrontery of that appeal: Give us . . . forgive us . . . ; this is the reason for our daring to approach God in this manner. For we must admit that this appeal is astonishing; it cannot be made except in the freedom that issues from our commitment as children of God and brothers and sister of Jesus Christ.
These are the two essential aspects of what I have called the change of attitude between the two parts of the Lord's prayer. This change is, in fact, only the consequence of the freedom which dominates the first part of the prayer.
We proceed now to the interpretation. We must not forget, however, that any development can only be tentative. We shall follow the same order as before : first explaining the terms, then the way in which God answers and has already answered this prayer, and finally we shall examine the prayer itself.
We must remember that Luther and Calvin never ceased emphasizing this point : that God has already heard us, and that is why we are free, and are commanded, to pray. No petition of the Lord's Prayer can be understood in any other way.
7. Our Daily Bread
Some of the Reformers (and we can do likewise) included in our bread everything we need to sustain life.
Those who are acquainted with Luther's Shorter Catechism will remember the well-known list that he draws up to explain the meaning of the word bread : food, drink, clothing, shoes, houses, farms, fields, land, money, property, a good marriage, good children, good and trustworthy authorities, a just government, favourable weather (neither too hot nor too cold), health, honours, good friends, trusty neighbours. This is no small order ! The list shows us the needs and the living conditions of a middle-class German countryman of the sixteenth century. But nothing need prevent our interpreting and completing the list to suit the needs of our own time and our individual situations. It is certainly permissible to think of daily bread in this wider sense of the word. Nevertheless I would emphasize that it is advisable not to lose sight of the original, simple meaning of the word bread . In the language of the Bible bread is used in two senses
1. That which is strictly necessary for life, the minimum nourishment which even the poor man cannot do without, the necessary minimum for the beggar and the tramp. It is the complement to the notion of hunger . Asking God to give us bread means appealing to his free grace which holds us and keeps us on the edge of the abyss of hunger and death. The minimum keeps us alive today; shall we have it tomorrow also? That is the vital question. Now we are living on it, but tomorrow? No one knows. We have no security if God does not give us this necessary bread, and with it life. The children of God know how precarious is our existence and the human situation in general. They know that, whether rich or poor, we are a people living in the wilderness, the people of Israel committed to God's cause. This is why we dare to ask him to preserve us from hunger and death, and we ask for it under this primitive form of bread because it cannot be taken for granted that we shall have it tomorrow.
2. In the Old and the New Testament bread is also the earthly symbol of God's eternal grace. Here the meaning of the word is at once more simple, natural and material as well as far more profound and sublime than we suppose. The natural and the sublime aspects are closely linked. They are a sign from God, given to this people in the wilderness, to the poor, the afflicted, to those who hunger and thirst, to those who are in the very jaws of death. Because of all that it stands for, bread is something sacred. Bread is the promise, and not simply the promise but also the mystical presence of that food which nourishes for good and all; the food which, whosoever has eaten of it will not need to eat again. In the Bible every meal, the most frugal or the most sumptuous, is something sacred, for it is the promise of an eternal banquet. In the Bible the life of the body in this world is sacred because it is the promise of life immortal and eternal.
The word bread, as we have seen, is set beside the word hunger. But it also stands for that fullness of life which we shall experience in the new age, in the era which is to come. This actual bread which we eat is the pledge and the sign - and also the presence - of that fullness. This is what is called here our bread. Thus, Give us our bread means : give us what is necessary for the present and, at the same time, let it be to us a sign, a pledge given in advance, that we shall live. According to thy promise, we, receiving it today, receive also the presence of thine everlasting goodness, the assurance that we shall live with thee.
The word daily has been the subject of much discussion; it raises all kinds of questions and problems which I do not propose to deal with here. I shall simply suggest to you the most probable interpretation. Epiousios (daily) means, for each day, for the coming day. Give us today, give us each day, the bread we shall need tomorrow. We are living now, but shall we be alive next minute, next day? Will hunger and death spare us till then? This is the practical question which our precarious situation presents to us. You will remember that in Matthew 6, Jesus exhorts us not to be anxious about our life, what we shall eat or what we shall drink. Calvin was surely right to add, in his Commentary it is very necessary to work for tomorrow's food. But neither anxiety nor work provides an answer to this question, Shall we be alive tomorrow? Prayer must take the place of anxiety and must underlie our work for the morrow. The children of God are not anxious about work; they work because they pray.
But perhaps at this point another meaning of the word bread should occur to us. Anxiety about the temporal tomorrow prefigures anxiety about the eternal tomorrow. For the uncertainty f this life is nothing compared to the uncertainty f human destiny. In the words of the requiem, `What shall I say then, wretched man that I am?' May this fear be transformed and become a prayer! The children of God know the uncertainty of human life and everything we are afraid of in time and in eternity, but they hope to receive today, yes today, with their bread and in the form of earthly bread, the pledge, nay rather the first-fruits, of the bread which will feed them eternally, which will be their food in the eschatological tomorrow.
Let us now consider what this petition means. To ask God to give us bread, both earthly and heavenly, material and non-material, implies that we know God as the one who gives. We have already pointed out that to pray with full knowledge of the situation it is necessary to pray with the certainty of being heard; to pray at random, without this certainty, is not prayer at all. Our prayer, therefore, must begin with this implication.
Thou givest us our bread for the morrow, and thou givest it today. Thou art our faithful Creator, and never for one moment dost thou cease to be so. We are a people in the wilderness and yet encompassed by the splendours and riches of creation, by all thy creatures and by the covenant of grace which thou hast been pleased to establish between thyself and us. Thou desirest not our death, but our life.
On thy side, nothing whatever can be lacking. There is bread in plenty for us and for all who could join with us in this prayer, bread in plenty for everyone. There is no danger of our being overtaken by hunger or death. Thou art ready to preserve all those whom thou hast willed to call to the service of thy glory. Everything thou givest us is in truth the pledge of a living food, of that abundance in which we shall live for ever. This we know because thou art our Father in heaven, our Father in Jesus Christ, with whom we live and who has called us to follow him and travel in his company: for the moment from afar, but nevertheless we travel with him. And since thou art his Father thou art ours also. Therefore we know that thou hast prepared for us a meal, a banquet, both temporal and eternal, and we hear thy voice bidding us to be guests at thy table.
We need to hear that voice calling us, and we cannot forget it : `Come, for all things are ready.' This is what impels us to pray and gives us leave to say to God : Give us today our daily bread.
We must also say : Do thou give it in such a way that it is not given in vain but that we may truly receive that bread which thou has prepared at thy table in the Holy Communion; that we may take from thy hands the bread which thou hast created for us and dost give us. Help us, therefore, and enlighten us, lest at the very moment when thou givest us afresh that ineffable and incomparable gift of thy patience and our hope, we should bear ourselves like gluttons or men surfeited with food; see to it that we do not squander or destroy that gift. Grant that each one may receive his bread without dispute or quarrelling. If anyone has more than he needs, grant him the knowledge that he is thereby appointed a servant and minister of thy grace, to be used in thy service and the service of others; and may all who are in special danger from hunger, death, and from the chances of mortal life find brothers and sisters whose eyes and ears are open and who are alive to their responsibilities. How shameful is our ingratitude and our social injustice! How senseless it is that in the midst of men who are surrounded by thy gifts and swollen with riches, there should still be some who are perishing from hunger!
See to it that we receive the food we need and that we receive it as thou givest it, that is, as a sign and a promise; and as we enjoy that sign, and as we bless thee ('Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all his benefits'), may we enjoy in anticipation the things thou dost promise us, so that even now we may take part in that feast at which thou wilt preside from everlasting to everlasting.
As you see, there is good reason to pray. Indeed it is our cause that is at stake. We are completely dependent on God, and truly he must make our cause his own so that it may be sustained and be victorious. We are in the position of being free to call on him without fear, in the certain knowledge that he hears us, and that he has always done and always will do what we ask of him.
8. Forgive Us Our Debts
We are in default in our relations with God; we owe him a debt which we have not paid, and if we are unable to pay we continue to be defaulters; if one fails to meet one's obligations, one is in default. One may be righteous, but nevertheless one is guilty. The result is that we offend the person in relation to whom we are at fault.
We are debtors to God; we owe him not any special thing, whether it be little or much, but quite simply ourselves, all we are, creatures sustained and nourished by his goodness. We, his children, called by his word to serve and glorify him, brothers of the man Jesus Christ, we fall short of what we owe to God. What we are and what we do bear no relation to what we have been given. We are his children and we are unable to recognize the fact. Calvin writes : 'Whosoever will not confess that we offend God like debtors who do not pay, shuts himself out from Christianity.' And Luther : 'Before God everyone is forced to lower his plumes.' Thus Christianity recognizes this state of things, but we are powerless to put it right. Even while, in response to his invitation, we are trying to obey and do what he requires of us, we allow our own ideas, our own leanings, our morality and religion to intrude, and we are continually obliged to recognize afresh that we are not worthy to serve him; and when we look at ourselves we know that we are without hope before him.
For even while we are living as Christians we are increasing our debt to him and making our desperate situation worse from day to day. And I think that as one grows older one realizes more and more the hopelessness of our position. Things go from bad to worse. We meet a rebuff at the very beginning of the Lord's Prayer where we are faced with this question : How have we the effrontery to draw near to God? We are zealous for his cause and straightway lay our own needs before him; who are we to claim to be God's fellow-workers? and then to say to him Attend to me, to us! Give us! We who have offended against him ! Again everything seems to be called in question.
What does forgive mean? Ideally it means to regard one's debtor as having done one no wrong, not to impute his fault to him, or hold his guilt against him, though he himself is aware of it and recognizes it. It means to let him start again with a clean sheet, to give him another chance. Forgive us! This petition excludes any sort of claim on our part, it denies us any right, even the slightest, to demand anything whatever from God. Neither man's fault nor man himself as defaulter can be excused; man is unforgivable. He has no right to claim the remission of his debt. The right to restore the guilty to their place as children of God belongs solely to him whom we have wronged; it is the right of the creditor or the sovereign, of that King to whom we have been disloyal, in whose service we have been, and always are, defaulters; that right can only pertain to the free mercy of God. We ask of God, then, that he will be pleased to use on our behalf that right which lies in his grace. We can trust in him. But unless we renounce completely any right whatever on our part, we shall not know how to pray as is fitting.
As we also forgive those who have offended against us. Is this a sort of preliminary condition which we lay down for ourselves in order to obtain forgiveness from God? No, it is rather a necessary criterion by which we may understand God's forgiveness. For anyone who knows that he is handed over to the mercy of God, that he cannot live without Divine forgiveness, anyone who has lived through such an experience, cannot do otherwise than forgive those who have offended against him (we are all offenders, we are all debtors one to another all the time). And even if the debts of our debtors seem very large, they are always infinitely less than those we owe to God. How can we hope for God's forgiveness, we whose debts are so great, if we are not willing to do this small thing-forgiving those who have offended against us? Having such a hope for oneself must surely open one's heart and soften one's feelings and one's judgment in regard to others. There is no merit, no moral effort or virtue in being able to forgive. How irritating those people are who, perpetually smiling, pursue you with their forgiveness !
Human forgiveness is a lovely thing and almost a physical necessity. In the light of the Divine forgiveness, when we look on those poor souls who have offended against us, even the worst cases seem not very serious; let us not settle down and take pleasure in the offences which have been committed against us; let us preserve a sense of humour about them, and let us freely make this small gesture of forgiveness towards those others. There is no occasion to regard this as part of the Christian warrior's moral armour; it is not a helmet or a sword which could endow us with courage and strength, but something which ought to be quite natural. Anyone who does not exercise this small amount of freedom is beyond the reach of Divine forgiveness; it might be said of him that he does not know how to pray and thus can receive nothing. This is no exhortation to go and forgive others, but a plain declaration that the Divine forgiveness received by a man makes him able to forgive. God's forgiveness operates on the divine plane and cannot be compared with what happens on the human level; nevertheless it is necessary that this small matter of forgiving our debtors should be practised on the human level. How can I hope for something myself if I will not give even this to my neighbour? I cannot escape from the obligation of giving this small fragment I But by this action I shall not make myself worthy to receive God's forgiveness I shall simply prove the sincerity of my hope and my prayer.
We must clearly understand the nature of God's forgiveness; it is in no sense an uncertain hope or an ideal to be sought or imagined; it is a fact. Before I ask for it, God has already bestowed forgiveness. He who does not know this, prays to no purpose. Forgiveness is ours already; that is the reality by which we live.
Our Father who art in heaven, truly thou hast forgiven our transgressions. Before I say to thee `Forgive me', thou hast established and proclaimed thy right to pardon, the righteousness of thy mercy, thy right to overlook our faults and not to regard us as offenders. In the person of thy Son, thou, the holy and righteous God, hast changed places with us, perfidious and unrighteous men. Thou hast put thyself in our place so that order may be restored in our favour. Thou hast obeyed and suffered for us, thou hast destroyed our sin and the sins of all mankind. And this thou hast done once for all.
Thou hast annulled those sins which are with us from our birth to our death, and also those which we commit each day, every moment in one way or another; those sins which we know only too well, and others that we are not aware of, but which will be revealed one day when our account is made up. Then we shall see ourselves as thou seest us. Thou hast abolished all these trangressions and hast begotten a new man (a new 'us' and a new 'me'), without sin, without transgression, a man who is pleasing to thee, righteous in thine eyes, pure and spotless and without reproach. Thou hast begotten this man and hast gathered us round him, round the cross of thy Son, so that we may be witnesses of our own judgment, because we must indeed enter into this judgment and this death which he has suffered in our stead to set us free.
Thou hast given us thy Holy Spirit so that this new man which thou hast created in Jesus Christ may live in us, and thy grace, revealed in him, may become ours. Because thou hast done this great work in thy Son and through thy Holy Spirit, we are not permitted to remain any longer in doubt and uncertainty and anxiety on account of our transgressions; henceforth our sins are thy concern, not ours. Thou dost forbid us to look backward, to feel ourselves crushed and, as it were, chained to our past or to what we are and do today or even tomorrow.
The time for fixing our eyes always on our sins instead of on thee is past; thou hast cut us off from the past. In Jesus Christ thou hast made of me a new creature and dolt allow me, and command me, to look forward. Not that we are to make light of what we are and do, or what we have been and have done, nor are we to put our trust in what we shall be or do. On the contrary, we are to be always on our guard, knowing that we are being and shall be judged, but also trusting in thee and in what thou hast done, in the judgment thou hast pronounced and the death thou hast suffered for our sakes. This is something which has been completed. But this action, already completed, has secured for us a future, and we have only to walk on the path which lies open before us. Thy forgiveness has made us free to take that path.
We must, however, thoroughly understand that we cannot in all seriousness speak to God in this way or receive his forgiveness without praying `Forgive us our debts'. Now it is for us to move towards that perfectt future; it is for us to believe and to make effective the new beginning inaugurated by the death of Jesus Christ.
May we now live our life as it really is, that is to say, united with his, taking the place that he has given us, the place where we really are, where he suffered and obeyed and lived for us. May we put on that new man begotten by God in Christ; may we cease to live heedlessly, and live henceforth in the reality of what God has done for us; may we not withstand the Holy Spirit when he assures us that we are thy children, not on account of our merits but because of thy free pardon, because thou hast conquered sin the flesh and hast exalted thy poor creatures as high as the heavens. May thy forgiveness sanctify us more and more, in spite of what we have been and still are and will be. We know that we shall be sanctified with the holiness that is thine, and that it will triumph over our wretchedness and all our impurities. Oh may thy forgiveness sanctify us for that day when, at the second coming of thy Son, thou wilt reveal to us for the last time, in the light of thy presence, all our shortcomings, our depravity, our transgressions, and everything we have concealed! But, much more than this, thou wilt reveal thy right to pardon, the righteousness of thy mercy which has prevailed over our wretchedness. Forgive us; grant us today, and through the days to come, which your long-suffering may allow us, to live in the liberty of the pardon thou hast given.
Indeed, we have reason to pray ! And if we consider the forgiveness we are bound to extend to others, how much more keenly shall we feel the need to pray. For if we refuse to make this gesture we are far from having apprehended the Divine forgiveness.
Thus, in this fifth petition, we confess our bankruptcy, and anyone who is unwilling to do so, must give up asking God to forgive him. We must recognize that our own cause is lost, but if we do, it will become victorious for us, for then it rests in the hands of him who has forgiven and still forgives.
9. Deliver Us from the Evil One
Lead us not into temptation. Here we are concerned with the great testing, not with evil merely, but with the Evil One.
There are minor trials, sins which are not mortal, one might almost call them provisional temptations, which God sends us every day and which vary according to our age some for the young, some for the not so young, and some for the old. God sends them because they are necessary for us; they are temptations which we can resist. In the Epistle of James, indeed, it is written that they can be an occasion of joy : 'Blessed is the man that endureth temptation' (Jas. 1.12). There are evils which cause suffering, both within and without, that may be severe and extremely unwelcome; but when looked at closely, they are found to be bearable. It can even be said, as Paul does, that 'they work together for the good f those who love God' (Rom. 8.28). One must not ask to be spared these trials and evils at all costs. It would be wrong to say to God : Do not make me go through what Job, David and all the saints have had to endure, in accordance with thy purpose which is always good. We are wrong to cry : Deliver us from everything which might be a danger or a cause of sorrow to us. The sixth petition of the 'Our Father' is not concerned with evils of this kind, minor trials which are only relative and can be endured.
But there is the great eschatological testing*, which may, no doubt, appear in the guise of a minor trial, but is itself entirely different : it is the activity of the Evil One. Moral and physical testings may in fact be identified with it; they can be the expression of its deadly action, but a distinction must be drawn. There is no question here of an ordinary danger which could be clearly recognized and resisted; it is, rather, the infinitely dangerous threat of that nothingness that is opposed to God himself. It is a threat which involves, for the creature, not merely a temporary danger, a relatively unimportant destruction, or a momentary corruption, but complete and utter ruin and final extinction. (* The 'temptation' (NEB : 'test') of which the Lord's Prayer speaks is generally agreed by scholars to refer to the testing of man in the final conflict with evil.-Ed.)
This is the supreme testing. There is nothing in it from which we may profit; it is fruitless, and if it comes upon us, one cannot say of it, `rejoice'; it holds no hope. There is an intolerable, unendurable evil which is in no way a rival to what is good, and the threat of it exists and manifests its presence. This supreme and infinite evil is not part of the created order. There are evils belonging to the created order, as we have said, but they are relative and can be borne. But that evil has no part in what God has willed and created; it exists at the farthest limit of creation, on the left hand as God is himself the limit on the right. This absolute evil thrusts itself upon the created order in forms which we all recognize-sin and death. It is seen in the unlawful and inexplicable domination of what the Scripture calls the Devil. The creature is defenceless in face of this menace; God is stronger than it, but his creatures are not. Once the Devil has gained a footing he wreaks endless havoc, against which we can do nothing without God's protection. Where God is not, or where he is not master, there the Devil reigns : no other alternative exists.
The Reformers, both Luther and Calvin, experienced not only small trials but the great testing; they knew that they had to do with the Evil One. They had no respect for him, since he is not worthy of respect, but they were aware of his existence; they knew very well that they had to reckon not with men's malice only - that of the Pope and all those who opposed them; there is also the Evil One, who turns to evil all those things with which we are occupied and about which we care. God's enemy is the enemy of his creatures also. If we are to pray this last petition as we should, we must recognize that the Reformers were right.
I have no intention of preaching to you about the Devil; one cannot preach him and I have no desire to cause you pain. But, nevertheless, this is something real, which modern Christians tend to pass over too lightly. There is an enemy possessed of superior power whom we cannot resist without God's help. I have no love for demonology nor for the way people concern themselves with it nowadays in Germany and possibly elsewhere also. Do not, therefore, ask me questions about demons, for I am no expert! We should, however, realize that 'the Devil exists and then make all haste to get away from him.
We pray thee, our Father, so to lead us that we may be able to avoid this sinister, this baleful borderland; lead us thy children, the redeemed of Jesus Christ. Spare us, not the struggle, for we must accept it, nor suffering, for one must suffer, but spare us the encounter with that enemy who is stronger than our utmost strength, more wily than our understanding (including our understanding of theology), more dangerously sentimental (for the Devil is sentimental too!) than we can ever be. He is more pious (yes, the Devil is pious also) than our Christian piety, ancient, modern or theological. Shield us from the possibility of such evil, from which we should not know how to protect ourselves and which would utterly and finally brutalize us.
This is not merely one trial among others, if somewhat more painful or sinister; it is the supreme testing in which the impossible becomes possible.
Deliver us from the Evil One. We discover and experience his power, though in fact the power is apparent and not real. But the terrible thing is that, though unreal, it is active; it is useless to make little of it because it is unreal; it is dangerous because it is a crafty and insidious power and its domination is only too real. Our sins give it power over us because we have yielded to it. We are in the very jaws of death; we complain, we suffer, but we cannot free ourselves.
The Greek word usually translated `deliver' may also be rendered 'snatch' us from those jaws. In the Old Testament, the Psalms from beginning to end echo with the cry `snatch us', and Christianity takes up this cry in the sixth petition, for it knows this enemy because it knows Christ and that he has encountered not only the ill-will of men but also the enemy of God and of his creature. It needed the Son of God to unmask the sinister wickedness of the enemy. This is why the Lord's Prayer ends with this cry de profundis, and if our prayer does not end on this same note, it does not answer to what Christ has taught us.
But this last petition also presupposes that we know, more certainly than we know anything else about this danger, that God has already done what we ask of him; before we thought of praying or had framed this petition lead us not into temptation, he had done it. In truth, God does not drive us into this testing.
No, our Father, this thou dost not do; how couldst thou, who hast revealed thyself in thy Son? Thou dost not deceive us; thy mind concerning this great testing is not in doubt, it is explicit; thy resistance is clear and plain and has been so since the first day of Creation when thy word was uttered: `Let there be light.' Thou, our Father, hast no commerce with evil, thou knowest no compromise, thou dost not tolerate it. The menace of nothingness can never come from thee, it will never be admitted or allowed by thee. Nay, rather, when thou leadest us in thy paths, in the way of thy goodness and thy forgiveness, thou wilt lead us always to the right, never to the left. We can be certain that while we follow thy word we shall never be led into the great testing. While we follow the path that thou hast prepared for us and hast revealed in thy Son we shall always be sheltered from this aberration. Thou wilt deliver us from the Evil One.
Art thou not God the liberator? There is only one who is able to effect a decisive deliverance, and thou art he. We know now that thou art the great liberator; thou thyself hast joined issue with the Evil One, that usurper whose dominion must be destroyed because he has no part in thy creation. Thou hast gone forth to shatter the powers of this kingdom of the Devil; thou hast caused him to fall like lightning from heaven, and we have seen him fall. In the resurrection of thy Son thou hast triumphed over the powers of darkness; thou hast proclaimed thy victory by many signs and wonders, and thou dost proclaim it still among us by baptism in the name of thy Son and by the presence of his body and his blood in the Holy Communion.
Thou hast snatched us already from those jaws; thine be the glory! We need no longer be oppressed by the menace of the Evil One or go in fear of him. That is why we pray `lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One'. Be ever with us, 0 thou our true and faithful guide, to show us the right path and open it before our feet; thou art the victorious leader before whom the Evil One is no more than a witless and ludicrous goblin, a nothing.
We know that without thee it would not be so. Our ways would not be the right way, and our moral and religious enterprises could never be successful. Without thee our efforts to overcome temptation, evil and the Devil would only make matters worse. It is for thee alone to protect us and rescue us from the position we are in. Once more, to thee be the glory, to thee in whom we put our trust. This is the final liberty that God grants us.
There is reason to pray. Without the last petition of the 'Our Father', and the response which precedes our prayer, we should be not merely crippled and handed over to judgment, but reduced to nothingness. Thine be the glory! Thou hast destroyed the one who would have destroyed us! Thou hast loved us and dost love us, and thy love is efficacious; it delivers once and for all!
10. The Doxology
Of this we shall speak only briefly. The words : for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever , do not belong to the original text of the Gospel; it is generally agreed that they are not authentic. The doxology is an addition, an extension, introduced for the liturgical use of the Lord's Prayer. The whole congregation would say, or sing, these words as a response to each of the six petitions said by the priest. But this does not prevent our considering the meaning of these words. What were the thoughts f the people in the Church of the second century when, at the end of the Lord's Prayer, this doxology was spoken? It is possible to see a connexion with the sixth petition; deliver us from the Evil One . In fact, of course, the kingdom, the power and the glory belong to God, not to the devil, sin, death, or hell. For means : we ask thee to deliver us from the Evil One, because to thee belong the kingdom, the power and the glory. Or, in other words : Show thyself to be the King, powerful and glorious, by delivering us from the Evil One.
There is another explanation which does not necessarily exclude the first. These last words embrace the whole prayer; the underlying idea would then be : It is necessary for us to pray because the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to thee and not to us, or to Christian men, or to the pious. All the things we ask of thee can be done only by thee, and this is why we call upon thee. The Heidelberg Catechism explains it thus : Thou art our King, the Almighty, who can and will give us all good things so that thy name may be glorified and not ours, nor the name of Christianity, nor that of the Church.
Amen. It will be enough to recall the words of Luther and of the Heidelberg Catechism. Luther asserts that it is a good thing to say Amen ! In other words, to learn not to doubt when we pray but to believe, because Amen means 'So be it!' Prayer is not an undertaking left to chance, a voyage into the blue. It must end as it began with conviction : Yes, may it be so!
The Heidelberg Catechism declares that Amen means that the certainty of the divine response is greater than our own certainty concerning our needs and our desires. Not what we ask is the most certain thing in our prayers, but what comes from God : his response.
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