June 2013 Magazine Article

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil Emperor Zurg…” a new twist on the familiar Lord’s Prayer slipped from Aedan’s lips recently. As he prayed his night time prayers with his family, a sub-conscious phrase slipped into his mind, and out it popped.  He is far from being alone in providing a child’s eye view of the world with a slip: his father sang loudly and confidently  ‘J.O.Y, surely this must mean, Jesus first, yourself last and others in between’ but heard and modified into ‘J.O.Y, surely Christmas means…’, and his uncle was intrigued to find the congregation knew the name of God to be Peter.  When I quizzed him, he had heard the response at the end of reading the bible not as ‘This is the word of the Lord: Thanks be to God.’ but as ‘Thanks, Peter God’.  It’s one of the joys of children, and almost feels wrong when you correct them.

To understand where ‘evil Emperor Zurg’ originates, you need to know ‘Toy Story’ with its two sequels.  In the first, we are introduced to Andy, a small boy with typically a single toy from a set.  By today’s standards, he seems under-toyed!  His favourite is Woody, a sheriff from the ‘Round-up Gang’, who is the undisputed leader of the toys.  His birthday introduces the new toy, Buzz Lightyear, a Space Ranger who’s nemesis is the evil Emperor Zurg.  Zurg is introduced in the sequel as utterly ruthless and focused on Buzz’s termination.  In the second film, a Star Wars twist makes him the father to his long lost son Buzz.  (Do I really know this much about a children’s film?!).  Aedan has saved and sold to buy his own Woody, so no doubt the whole Toy Story saga is buzzing around his head, and in one of those glorious inconsequential connections, tumbled out in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer.Whilst we smile at a little faux pas, it transpires Aedan is closer to the truth than might first appear to be the case.  To modern ears, the phrase ‘Keep us from evil’ makes it sound as though evil is a neutral force.  Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which is the one we tend to follow (The Bible, Matthew 6.9-13), is clear that the evil is personified, even personal, so we actually petition to be delivered from ‘the Evil One’, even though in the common use version it is reduced to just ‘Evil’.  In the prayer Jesus gives us, it is a reference to Satan, or the devil, who earlier appeared in the gospel story, tempting Jesus in the wilderness to ‘short-cut’ and use his powers selfishly.  Once resisted by Jesus, the devil withdraws, but with the ominous line in Luke “he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4.13).

Evil in the Bible is never seen as a neutral force, but as an active personified resistance to God and all that is right and good.  The devil plans and manipulates, he even speaks through the mouth of Jesus’ right hand man, Peter, encouraging Jesus to abandon the path to the cross.  Jesus rebuked Peter with the words “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8.33) Finally, Satan animates and enters Judas to betray Jesus (John 13.27) but subsequently discarding Judas; loyalty is never a characteristic of evil!

In the natural world, bad things happen, like the devastating hurricane that hit Oklahoma, but evil always requires a person.  The malevolence in evil is dependent on sentience, the self-awareness of the ‘I’ in each of us.  As I write, the tragic and savage death of Drummer Lee Rigby is in the news.  His injuries are repulsive because of the evil involved, not the extent of his injuries.  If the same injuries were sustained in a road accident, or, for example, the sad case of the Lakeland zookeeper mauled to death by her tiger in the same week, we would not reach for the word ‘evil’.  The evil comes from the intelligence, the planning, the foreseen consequences of deliberate actions.  Evil is always personal, and the Bible makes no mistake in always portraying it as a personal attack on the work of God.  Insofar as evil Emperor Zurg is the personification of evil in resistance to all that is good and right and holy in the world Aedan inhabits in his imagination, he is effectively right to pray for deliverance from a person.  In the real world, we need to be as realistic.  We are in a war, a spiritual war in which the enemy is subtle, malevolent, strategic, intelligent, always looking for a way to set people against each other in slavery to his own machinations – and yes, it’s personal!  The advice is the age old advice: “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (The Bible, 1 Peter 5.8-9).

Praying that in your daily life you may claim and so know deliverance from the Evil One in the strength and love and peace of the one who resisted him unto death, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Simon Cox.