For nineteen years, between 1927 and 1946, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick conducted a nationwide program entitled “National Vespers.” Each year he received 100,000 letters from members of his vast audience, many of them telling about their religious difficulties. On the basis of that experience he had this to say: “No verse in the Bible puzzles more people than the petition in the Lord’s Prayer ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ ‘Is it not a shocking idea,’ many say, ‘that God leads men into temptation and that we must beg him to stop doing it?’ ” (On Being Fit to Live With, p. 151).

There are three problems with this petition:

1. There is the difficulty of supposing that it is God who leads us—in the sense of inviting and tricking and even seducing us—to quote George Buttrick’s expression—into temptation.

2. There is the difficulty involved in asking God to help us avoid temptation, since it is as clear as crystal that temptation is an inescapable part of human experience.

3. And there is the difficulty of knowing what good purpose would be served by our completely escaping temptation, even if that were possible or conceivable, since Christian character is hammered out only on the anvil of conquered temptation.

The first difficulty may be disposed of quite readily. Although the King James Version gives the rendering “Lead us not into temptation,” the Greek text does not mean to suggest that God actively and deliberately pushes men into situations of temptation. A more accurate translation is this, “Let us not be led into temptation,” or perhaps, “Let us not enter into trial.”

What about the second and third difficulties? Clearly they are bound up together. Two explanations have been offered to resolve them. First, the petition may mean ...

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