Deliver Us From Evil
by Dale A. Bisnauth
May 23, 1999
The human being is a myth-making animal. An early (and Biblical) myth that some ancients lived by, was that people were bound together in covenant relationships. These included the relationship between spouses, between parents and children, between siblings, between master and servant, between employer and employee, between government and people, and so on - one vast web of human relationships. In fact, it was believed that there existed as well a relationship between human beings and the environment.
The pervasive notion was that each of these relationships carried a set of rights (sometimes seen as needs) and obligations. Every person had rights, but each had obligations as well. Thus, it was the right of employees to expect a fair wage from their employers, as it was the obligation of the employees to perform well at the required task. It was the right of children to expect to be provided for by their parents; it was the parentsí obligation to meet those rights. And it was the parentsí right to expect obedience and respect from their children, and the childrenís obligation to pay their parents due respect and obedience. It was also the childrenís obligation to care for their parents when they became old and were no longer able to provide for themselves.
It was the peopleís obligation to pay their taxes and to honour those in authority; it was the governmentís obligation to ensure that peace (law and order) was maintained so that people could set about their several tasks without undue interruption and inconvenience. People expected that as a right; the state was obliged to meet that right.
When the rights and obligations demanded by the covenant, which was believed to be of divine origin, were adequately met, a society or nation was said to do or practise justice. Justice was regarded as something done. Peace, prosperity and cultural (often regarded as religious) flowering were the expected results. Then, the earth too, was expected to yield good harvests.
When justice was not practised, that is when the rights and obligations that were demanded by the covenant were not met in adequate measure (perfection in this regard was the ideal, but it was not really expected, human beings being what they were/are), the society was regarded as being under threat. It was threatened by evil. Another name for evil was "chaos;" chaos was the opposite of order or creativity, or cosmos. Evil undermined and destroyed the covenant relationships with their expectations of rights and obligations; disorder reigned; anarchy prevailed; and dissolution of the fabric of society was underway. Civilization was under threat to return to the swamp.
It is against this kind of background that the last petition of the Lordís Prayer (or, the "Our Father") is to be understood. That petition is: "Deliver us from evil." The original Greek can be better translated, "save us from the evil one." For those of you who have problems with the personalization of evil, the petition may easily be translated, "save us from evil," without losing the depth of the meaning of the prayer.
"To save" in this context, means: to liberate, to deliver, to set free, to heal. And the petition has personal and social relevance. The individual persona can be threatened with dissolution; its integrity can be undermined and destroyed; it can be enslaved by internal forces as well as by forces external to it.
What is not readily appreciated is that the petition has social relevance, and that the prayer is an affirmation of that which is wholesome and conducive to the welfare of society, and a declaration of choice against those things (the evil) which lead to the dissolution of the fabric of society. It is not so much an appeal directed to an external source to "save us," as it is a conscious declaration of intent to stand with those on the side of those things that make for justice, national integrity and social wholesomeness.
We, modern people that we are, may look askance at the notion of covenant and its seeming irrelevance in an urbanized world where social relationships have more of a cash interpretation than of a human and humane one. But how different is the covenant myth from that of modern civil society organized under the myth of John Lockeís "Social Contact"? My understanding of Lockeís myth is that we either believe ourselves to be living under some kind of contract that imposes rights and obligations on us, or face the possibility of regressing into that state of affairs where, according to Jean Jacques Rousseau, nature is "red (with blood) in tooth and claw."
From this kind of regression, Guyanese need to pray/affirm/declare: "Save us from evil" meaning by evil, chaos, social disintegration, and loss of national integrity as a people.
In the ancient world, great political leaders were called saviours; sometimes they were called healers. They liberated nations and groups within nations from slavery, oppression, misery and divisiveness, from external conquerors and internal oppressors.
In todayís world, nations can be saved by a minority of people committed to the ideals of a people. I believe that the salvation of Guyana from the threats that this nation faces lies with those women and men of goodwill who are committed to the ideal of forging from peoples of several backgrounds and cultures, one people with a common national destiny.
Even if those people who hold to this ideal are few in number, providing they are willing to resist the anxiety produced by propaganda and the goings-on around them that urge them to emigrate, providing they are willing to resist the conformity enforced by threat or in the face of that threat to yield to the ever-present urge to racism, providing they can rise above the hatred and hostility stimulated by ignorance and partisan interests, they can save this nation from anarchy and division.
In the final analysis, to pray, "Deliver us from evil," is to recognize that the saving power is effective in you and in me. The salvation of this country depends on the amount of healing and liberating grace which works through any of us with respect to social justice, racial equality, and political wisdom.
People who fling up their hands in despair and disgust are of no help, of no use. Those who work at their own liberation from racism, and at the healing of divisiveness between themselves and others who do not share their perspective on things, will themselves "be saved". They will then become this nationís saviours. While others appeal as to some external/divine power, they declare their intent to stand on the side of the good, the wholesome, the inclusive, and on the side of national integrity, when they affirm: "Deliver us from evil." Peace!
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples