The time of TRIAL: do we pray to be saved “in” it or “from” it?
When the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer was changed from
“Lead us not into temptation”
“Save us in/from the time of trial”,
there were a couple moves afoot.
The first was to deal with the word “temptation”, which, in modern society, is associated with moralistic choices involving such issues as sex, food, self-importance, et al. In one sense, these are pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things, and certainly are not forces from which we need God’s protection. Everyone has the ability to choose for or against them without any divine help.
Now that “temptation” has been replaced by “trial,” we are free from petty moralistic matters to focus on the spiritual tests we face. However, you may have noticed that, in some churches, we are guided to pray “Save us from the time of trial” and in others we are guided to pray “Save us in…”
Translation is an imprecise discipline. If the words came from Jesus, they would have been spoken in Aramaic. The words would have been handed down verbally through Jesus’ followers, and written in different communities by the Gospel authors or their predecessors in Greek, and then translated into English by people who had to work with assumptions about the context in which they were originally spoken.
The first orders of service produced by the Uniting Church, instructed us to pray “Save us in…” Since I was training for ministry at the time, this is the form I got in the habit of using, and I am pleased to note that this is the form printed on the lectern for use at Leopold.
Later, the Uniting Church changed “in” to “from” in its liturgies, though I am not sure why. If the trials we are to face are tests of faith or of character, then certainly we should not pray to avoid them, and thus the use of from is most inappropriate. These tests are the means by which faith is strengthened and character is built. As we may need some divine help in meeting the trials, it is appropriate to pray for God to save us in them. We could even infer from the words of this line of the prayer, recognising that a strong faith is needed for salvation, that we are praying for trials to come to us so we can be saved by way of the extra strength our faith will gain through testing.
If Jesus instructed his disciples to pray “Save us from the time of trial” or “Do not bring us to the test,” he must have been referring to something particularly terrible; a degree of testing beyond the ability of human resources to cope, even with God’s help. Of course, the prayer is written after just this sort of trial ended with Jesus’ death. It began in Gethsemane and ended on a cross in a feeling of utter abandonment by God, with Jesus helpless to have prevented any of it. The writer may have had this in mind for the petition in question. It wouldn’t have come from Jesus, of course, but another origin does not make it any the less valid.
If Jesus did say it, perhaps the time of trial from which we need divine protection is some final cataclysm at the end of the world, or on more personal basis, an attack by evil so powerful that any normal person would not stand a chance of survival; an attack in which even God is unable to help.
My inclination, given various scriptural references to such trials, is to believe that “from” is the more accurate translation; however, accuracy is not the only consideration here. “From” was appropriate in a world in which evil had a persona, i.e. evil was alive as a force from outside that could invade a person and destroy a soul. People of the time felt the need from protection from such a force, but I don’t think this concept fits into a modern world. It has little meaning for most people, and appropriately so. Why pray to be protected from something that we do not believe exists?
The Word of God requires constant reinterpretation so that it continues to speak to people. It was interpreted by the various authors of the biblical books for their time and place, and so it is not surprising it might need to be interpreted anew for our time and place. Today in Australia we don’t have invulnerable evil beings to fight off, and we don’t imagine God bringing an apocalypse that will destroy the world anytime soon.
Certainly there is evil present in hearts and minds of people, and there is little doubt that the world could be destroyed; but if so, it will be by human beings. There are many trials to be faced, but none beyond the ability of human beings to win with divine help. That said, I think the form of the Lord’s Prayer that makes most sense, given the paradigm in which we exist, is to pray, “Save us in the time of trial.” This is the prayer we need right now, right here.