Recent news that Pope Francis has now approved a change in the translation of the wording in the Bible where the Lord’s Prayer is given, from “lead us not into temptation” to read “do not let us fall into temptation” has caused some controversy.
Already two years ago he had expounded his view – which is that the text as we have it translated at the moment suggests that God actively induces temptation, which is indeed difficult to imagine.
However, when one looks at the original Greek, it does appear that the traditional form as we know it is closer to that wording.
But translation is fundamentally about the meaning conveyed by the words in their context.
The Church of Ireland prayer book has the traditional and a modern wording, with the person conducting the service choosing which to use.
Both ask the Father not to lead us into temptation.
That is how many of us have learnt the text from our earliest years. The Lord’s Prayer is ingrained in believers’ hearts.
In my own ministry, I often suggest to people when they say they don’t know what to say when they get on their knees, that all they really need to start praying is to say the Lord’s Prayer.
It has been the tradition which I have learnt that no church service is complete without it.
However, we can come to love outward forms, including word forms, so much that we lose sight of the deeper meaning.
Does God, as in the traditional wording, actively lead any of us into temptation?
We are told in Scripture that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew Chapter 4, Verse 1).
The implication is that there was a necessary, divine purpose at work.
Perhaps what is really meant in the Lord’s Prayer, is that God might not test or try us, because, after all, trials and testings, however necessary they may be, can be very difficult to endure.
In that vein, another alternative reading for “lead us not into temptation” is “save us from the time of trial”.
There are many difficult passages of scripture and, no doubt, this is one of them.
However, we can never expect to make full sense of everything that happens to us in life.
Perhaps indeed through some particularly trying experience, such as a serious illness, we may come to know and trust God more. Has God a part in that? Maybe so, even though God surely does not actually will us to suffer.
In the end, it is not really possible to have religion cut and dried, with all loose ends neatly tied up.
As I look back over the years as a member of the clergy, I have really seldom come across anyone who has ultimately turned their back on God because of an illness or some other misfortune.
Questions, doubts, certainly have often arisen, but so many people find that, in the end, their faith is strengthened through an adversity, rather than destroyed.
In the whole outworking of our lives, with the happiness and the sorrow, the pleasure and the pain, I believe God is at work in God’s own sacred way. I certainly cannot fully explain that, but I can entrust myself, my loved ones and every person into God’s safe keeping.
I will continue to use the prayer book wording of the Lord’s Prayer, but I think I understand what Pope Francis means by the stance he has taken and I respect his view.
Canon Ian Ellis is a former editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette