There is certainly a great deal of anxiety about our times. To put it lightly, people express in various ways the sense that things are not trending well. While I am reluctant to believe that these days are worse than ever before, I concede there are certainly troubling trends. We daily encounter news of shootings, war and rumors of war, natural disasters and environmental catastrophe, moral disintegration, failing marriages and dysfunctional families, abuses of the powerful, and rising suicide rates among our youth. Add now that gas is hovering around $5 per gallon, there is no wonder why it's a sense that these days are evil.
Aside from all this, if we pause enough to be honest, we not only confront evils we find out there in the world but the evils we find in ourselves. We wrestle with the gap between the people we ought to be and the people we are. Whether it is habitual, compulsive or destructive behavior surrounding sex, alcohol or drugs, food, etc. from which we just cannot seem to free ourselves from, or whether it is the more subtle discontent over our failure to be the ideal person, spouse or parent, we all wrestle with feelings of shame, guilt and regret.
It is easy to despair over a sense of helplessness to these evils. We feel at the mercy of these broader forces at work in our world. We feel at the mercy of our bad habits and failures. So, we resign to the nihilistic mantra of our age “It is what it is.” As Christians, however, we must resist that idea because the Gospel says both, “It is what it ought not be” and “it can be different.” The Gospel offers deliverance from evil, both from the evil in the world and the evil in me.
What Is Evil?
What do we mean by evil? What are we praying for when we pray that God would deliver us from evil? The Greek word for evil is poneros. It is important to note that grammatically this word is an adjective not a noun. Conceptually, that means that evil is not a thing but a condition or quality. That is, evil is not a substance or force in the world. It is not like the Eastern conception of yin and yang, where two equal, opposing and balancing forces are at work in the world. Neither is good and evil merely moral language we assign to pleasure and pain, as in the naturalist conception.
The biblical conception of evil is a condition of corruption, perversion or bentness (a determination or inclination). It is rebellion or corruption of what “ought to be.” Evil is a descriptor of persons, things or deeds. In the Lord’s prayer, “deliver us from evil,” it is used substantively, which means the person or thing is assumed but unstated. That is, you could translate it “the evil one” or “the evil age.”
Deliverance from Evils
So, what do we need to be delivered from evil, and can we hope for actual rescue? To do this let’s look at three evils from which we need deliverance.
While not a readily acceptable idea to the modern mind, it is important to note that the Bible does describe a personal, spiritual force at work in the world. We use Satan like a first name, but it is actually a title (The Accuser) and one of many titles used to describe this “evil spirit.” Elsewhere he is referred to as the Devil (Matthew 4:1), Beelzebul (Mark 3:22), the Tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5), The Serpent (Revelation 20:2), the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). This evil spirit is not equal to God; he is a rebel or traitor who seeks to corrupt and destroy God’s good creation. God is at war and at work to finally destroy the Satan and his work. We see this as Jesus proclaims his Gospel “The Kingdom of God is at hand” while he casts out demons and “binds the strong man.”
In Colossians, we find salvation described as the deliverance from the power of darkness and transference into the kingdom of the beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). The reality of spiritual forces at work in the world, is one of the reasons why prayer is an essential practice. Prayer is not simply therapy. It is calling upon the ultimate spiritual power in our battle against the evil spiritual powers at work in the world. Jesus sent his disciples off into the nearby towns to preach the Gospel and heal the sick. Upon their return, when they recounted their experiences casting out demons, he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” (Luke 10:18 ESV). Prayer is the means by which we call upon the Holy Spirit’s power to deliver us from this evil power at work in the world.
In addition to the spiritual source of evil in the world, the Bible also regularly references another evil force at work called the world. It is important to note that when the Bible talks about the world, it is not denigrating the physical world or creation. God declares his creation good. He loves the world in this sense. Rather, it refers to the moral order of the world. Paul describes a conforming force or pattern at work in the world that is squeezing us into a certain shape. “Do not be conformed to this world…” (Romans 12:2).
Pause to consider the kinds of values that are reflected in our advertising, our music and movies, our economics, and our politics. Implied in these are certain values and definitions for what is good, what is meaningful, what is worth pursing, what is socially acceptable, etc. We have felt these as pressure to go along with things. It is just the way the world works. Using our definition of evil, these conforming patterns and pressures of the world are squeezing us out of shape with God’s will.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The reality of these social forces at work in the world is one of the reasons why regular engagement with the Word of God is an essential practice. The battleground is the mind. As our minds go, so go our lives. The world bombards us with a continual stream of beliefs and values that become basic assumptions and beliefs misshaping our lives. Therefore, we must have our minds renewed to push back and overcome the conforming and deforming patterns of the world. We must counteract the false beliefs and evil values that wash over us every day as we operate in the world with true and good beliefs that will lead to deliverance.
It would be easy to point to the previous examples of evil as excuses, for they seem to be external forces acting upon us. “The Devil made me do it” or pointing the finger at “Society” are justifications for our own bad behavior. Yet, there is this thing the Bible calls the flesh. As with the world, it would be wrong to equate the flesh with our physical body. The biblical view is not a platonic or gnostic view, both of which sees the material world as corrupted. In this view, the material body is a prison house for the spirit to escape.
The flesh, as the Bible uses it, speaks more to our nature, both body and mind, that is bent toward evil. It includes our bodily appetites, but they are appetites out of control, out of order, out of proportion rather than appetites as such. For example, our appetites for food and sex are not evil. They are good and God designed. However, our appetites for food and sex without limit or boundary, disconnected from the authority and will of our maker, leads to evils like gluttony or adultery.
The flesh is fundamental to our human nature and perhaps explains why we naturally fall into bad habits and not good habits. James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:13–14 ESV).
This flesh, or human nature bent toward evil, is one of the reasons why regular practice of classic spiritual disciplines like fasting, chastity, almsgiving, solitude and silence is essential. Hebrews describes this as a maturing process that comes through training. The mature are those who “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 ESV).
Practices such as these train the appetites of the flesh that want to spin out of control. Through discipline, we bring them into their right proportion and shape. If gluttony is the appetite for food out of control and out of proportion, fasting brings this appetite under control through conscious awareness and concentrated effort. Rather than being carried away into evil by an unconscious obedience to our appetites, the disciplines direct our appetites to the good through focused practices. One can see how this would apply in the other areas – chastity pushing back against our tendency toward boundaryless sex, almsgiving against our tendencies toward greed and selfishness, solitude against our tendency to distraction, silence against our tendency to talk too much and fill our lives with noise.
These disciplines should not be seen as mere moral efforts that we do to deliver ourselves from evil. Rather, they are ways that we choose to live according to the Spirit and not the flesh. Paul says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” (Romans 8:5 ESV) and “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).
It is easy to despair when we face the evils at work in the world and the evil at work in us. It is important to remember, however, that God has not abandoned us to this evil. While we cannot avoid it, we are not at its mercy. God has promised deliverance, and in the Gospel, we find reason to hope and resources to overcome.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.