This line (In Matthew’s version of the Our Father) has never made sense to me, although I continue to say it since this is the way it is usually translated; but I cannot really appeciate it as is. Sometimes, it is translated “do not put us to the test” (In Luke’s version), which still seems strange and problematic. Why would God “lead” us into temptation or “put us to the test” to begin with? Is human life an obstacle course, a testing ground? Are we all on trial? I thought God’s usual job was to lead us away from temptation! Why would we need to ask God to NOT lead us INTO temptation? Does he?
Here is the way I can make sense out of the common translation, and then you do with it what you wish, which includes ignoring it if it is not helpful.
I think Jesus is saying that we are BURDENED WITH FREEDOM, life is a constant decision, and thus it is always a “temptation” to choose the wrong thing or to believe that we have ever perfectly done the “right” thing. Free will itself is our constant temptation. Even when we choose the supposed good thing, it is seldom the perfect thing, and usually has many unwanted effects. We seldom do good things for totally pure motives. Maybe the only big temptation for religious people (who are the ones who would say such a prayer!) is to think that we, in fact, DO perfectly good things–for pure love of God and neighbor–and with clear motives? Do we ever do that? It is the illusion of people in the first half of life and of religion.
With this interpretation, the final line of the Our Father now makes perfect sense–”at least, keep us from actually doing evil”! That is almost the most we can hope for, and indeed should be our honest and humble prayer (Similar to the Doctor’s principle, to at least “do no harm”!) I think the prayer was to keep religious people humble, honest, and unpretentious–and fully conscious of their own mixed motives and confused actions. Maybe it would best be translated “Lead us away from any illusions about ourselves, and at least keep us from doing downright evil” and calling it virtue. That is perhaps the best that we weak humans can hope for, it seems to me. At this point in history, far too much evil has been done by Christiian people who are absolutely convinced they are doing “God’s holy will”, when they are clearly doing their own. The Our Father, thus understood, was meant to keep us all self critical and truly open to another “Kingdom coming” instead of just our own. Remember, prayer is something that “religious” people do, and that is who he created it for. Jesus was not creating a prayer for the likes of Al Capone or Heinrich Himmler! Let’s give Jesus credit for the immense subtlety and attention to audience with which he taught. The major “temptation” that religious people fall into is illusion–and the outright evils done in its name.