Deliver us from evil


“Deliver us from evil” is a somewhat misleading translation. In the Greek New Testament, there is a definite article before the word evil. So Jesus actually commanded us to pray for deliverance from “the evil” or, more precisely, “the evil one.”

It makes a difference, and a rather large one at that. For there is only one evil, and that is sin. I don't mean to be dismissive of other sufferings — loneliness, rejection, grief, cancer, physical disability, mental illness. These can be horrific trials. But they cannot defeat us if we remain strong with God's own strength. Even if disease or murderers should take our lives, we will not die — indeed, we will never die — as long as we keep faith.

The only real danger, the only reality that deserves the name death, is evil. The only thing we really need to be delivered from is not trial, temptation, suffering, or the grave. The only real enemy is sin.

The Futile System

All sin traces its ancestry to the sin of Satan, the fallen prince of angels. Before Adam and Eve faced him in the garden, he had already refused to serve God and enticed a third of heaven's angels to follow him in rebellion. Ever after, he has vainly waged war against God and all His works. He tempted our first parents and so cooperated in bringing the curse of death upon the world. Till now, he has never ceased his attacks against God's children. "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).

The Devil lives to oppose God's will. He tempts us at every turn so that we might follow him in rebellion. For God does not will that anyone should ever sin. We don't have to look long or far to see that the Devil succeeds often in temptation. Perhaps he also succeeds often in the final devouring of souls.

Yet his work is perpetually futile. For God is omnipotent, and so His will is inexorable. God's plan will be accomplished. Almighty God, says St. Augustine, "would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in His works if He were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself."1 Even the greatest evil in history, the torture and murder of God's only Son, "brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption" (Catechism, no. 312). In the words of St. Paul, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:20).

Thus, the Devil's works are worse than futile. They are self-defeating. For when we resist his temptations, we grow stronger in virtue, and we gain divine life through grace. Even if we succumb to his empty promises, but then return to God in sorrow, we grow stronger still. As long as we remain united to Christ, we need fear nothing from our trials, for they can only work to our benefit.

Pope John Paul II summed it up well in his August 20, 1986, general audience. Satan, he said, "cannot block the construction of the Kingdom of God. . . . Indeed, we can say with St. Paul that the work of the evil one cooperates for the good (cf. Rom. 8:28) and that it helps to build up the glory of the 'chosen' ones" (cf. 2 Tim. 2:10).

The Scriptures give us proof positive in the Book of Job. The Devil afflicts Job with disease and poverty, and he brutally takes the lives of Job's children and his livestock. But Job remains steadfast in his faith in God's goodness. Through the ordeal, Job grows in wisdom, and he proves his love for God when such love seems, by a purely human standard, most difficult to give.

In the end, Job is holier, wiser, and even richer than he had ever been before; and so he is happier. Who gets the credit? Should we give the Devil his due? Except for God Almighty, no one worked harder to bring holiness to Job than did the Devil, and no one wanted it less.

The Best Policy

The "evil one" works no differently in your life than in Job's. No one is working harder for your holiness than the Devil, but no one wants it less. His work in an individual life is always a gamble. If he succeeds in tempting us to despair or to commit mortal sin, we consent to our own true death, the death of our soul. But if we, like Job (and, more, like Jesus) cling to "Our Father . . . in heaven" — rejecting Satan and all his works and all his pomps — we, too, will be holier, wiser, and richer in the end.

Again, this does not mean we should seek to do individual combat with the Devil. He is an angel of the highest order, with an intelligence that is far superior to the combined intelligence of all humanity. On our own, we do not have the strength to defeat him, and indeed he has been the downfall of many exalted minds and souls throughout history.

We pray for deliverance from Satan because we know that we cannot defeat him in a game of one-on-one; nor do we trust our weak faith. We gladly pray the prayer of realists, the prayer of weaklings, for that is what we are. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Amen!

St. Cyprian points out that these petitions are comprehensive insurance policies, providing coverage against every moral and physical evil. "When we have once asked for God's protection against evil and have obtained it, then we stand secure and safe against everything which the Devil and the world work against us. For what fear does a man have in this life, if his guardian in this life is God?"2

And He is not merely our Guardian, but our Father.


  1. Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, chap. 3, no. 11, quoted in Catechism, no. 311.
  2. Treatise on the Lord's Prayer, no. 27.


Scott Hahn. "Deliver Us from Evil." Lay Witness (November/December 2003).

This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.


Dr. Scott Hahn is professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. He received his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in biblical theology from Marquette University. This series explores God's fatherhood, drawing from Sacred Scripture and the Church's Tradition. This is the third installment.

Scott Hahn is a former ordained Presbyterian minister with ten years of ministry experience and a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He entered the Catholic Church at Easter 1986 and is the author of First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity, Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (co-authored with his wife Kimberly), and co-editor of Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God.

Copyright © 2003 LayWitness

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