Back in summer 2019, there was a bit of controversy in the headlines about proposals to change the Lord’s Prayer. It was about the line “lead us not into temptation…”. Pope Francis was arguing that God does not lead us into temptation, and so the better phrasing would be, “let us not fall into temptation.” The word “temptation” is also rendered “time of trial”.
Why does this matter, I hear you ask! Well, lots of reasons. Not least that for those people who are in dark places, suffering all kinds of evils and trials, to be told that God put them there would be terrible. It suggests that God causes suffering of the innocent. And I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth.
God does not cause suffering. We cause it, whether through our thoughtless action or inaction, or deliberately and with the intent of wounding others. And the reality is that we must all live with the consequences of our actions, and often the consequences of the actions of others too!
Sometimes we can feel very alone, and as if there is no one to turn to. When we are unjustly accused, when there are false allegations against us, when others are trying to hurt or humiliate us, it can even feel like God himself is absent. This is often called the ‘dark night of the soul’, a phrase coined by St John of the Cross in the 16th century.
As I write, the terrible evil of war rages still in Ukraine, and in many other places across the world, though those are not in the main headlines. Moving away from the global, individuals suffer terribly through injustice and the lies and brutality of others. It can feel like we are living in the pain and agony of Good Friday, with Jesus as he is rejected, scourged, crucified.
But as Christians, we are an Easter people. Good Friday is not the end. Resurrection comes with the dawn of ‘the third day’, and with it comes new life and new hope.
I’m reminded of the children’s story, ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt.’ You may know the refrain: “can’t go under it, can’t go over it, go to go through it!” But how often we wish we could skip the bad and scary parts!
The words of Psalm 27, the psalm set for this Sunday, give hope to those in dark places.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
It finishes with words of hope and trust:
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
For those of you who are in that place of struggle, in pain, hurting, or feeling alone – I offer you these words of comfort. For you are not alone; God is with you. And though it can feel endless, and be agonising, Good Friday does come to an end. Evil does have a limit and an ending.
And after that, when the trial is over, when humans have done their worst, God in Christ Jesus, who is Love Incarnate, is always victorious.