Reflection on “Evil One”

by Christópher Abreu Rosario

This is a reflection on the prayer “Evil One.”

This prayer is bold. The reciter speaks directly to the evil one (vv. 1, 28, 32) and even claims to have the evil one in their sight (vv. 2–3, 6–7, 24–25, 32). The three-fold repetition of “I see you; I see what you’re doing” is broken in the fourth instance where agency moves beyond witness to action “and with God I come to make things right” (v. 33). Who the seer is, is unknown. Perhaps it is a human, perhaps it is Jesus, perhaps it is the Trinity. All that matters is that the seer has joined with the forces of good to stop the one who causes evil.

I was drawn to this piece because it reminded me of my upbringing and former deeply rooted beliefs in the devil. Over the years, and through presbyterian indoctrination, I have lost sight of such a figure in my understanding of faith. I can only remember one instance during my seminary experience where this figure was discussed. During a Greek exegesis course, my professor corrected the Lord’s prayer to include Jesus’ words asking God to protect us “from the evil one” and not simply just “evil.” Understanding koine Greek, what a liberation.

There are connotations to this reading and the boldness of this prayer. Something I remember from my formative years is that whenever the family was chismeando[1] about a horrendous act that a person did, they always ended the thought with the common Dominican saying: “a demon must have entered them.” I think about this from time to time as we polarize our society further, blaming fallible humans for sins much greater than a single human body could ever withstand. I think of how I have been called superstitious and dramatic over the years, and to reject the foundations of my Dominican culture because it is founded on lesser ideals[2]. And yet, the Dominican Republic abolished the death penalty in 1966 by amending our constitution. What does it mean then, to value human life to the point where great evil is understood to exist beyond ourselves? To recognize it as something that may indeed corrupt us, but which is not from us? What would such a thought do to our processes of reconciliation?

I think our seer is fully aware of what is at stake in the world if we do not acknowledge the forces of evil. Our very governments, built to protect us, hurt us (vv. 8–11), capitalism being a consequence (vv. 12–15). The church universal, caught in the same system of politics and finance, participates in our oppression (vv. 16–19). The evil one destroys our relationships, turning us against one another (vv. 20–23). Our very notion for existing, to be in community with one another as we are with God, is at stake.

However, our seer is also aware of something else: our agency. It is through our witnessing of pain in the world that we are called to rage against it (vv. 26–27), joining God as active participants in the restoration of the created order (vv. 30–31). Our punishment for the fall is that we must till the earth with our hands (Gen 3:17), and yet how easy we leave all the work of making the world right again to God?

I assume this prayer would be rejected in many mainline settings; however, I think that would be a mistake. This prayer is a promise to God, to take responsibility for our inaction and to empower ourselves for the work ahead. Let it be so.

[1] Chisme is incorrectly translated into English as gossip. In reality, it is more akin to a public broadcasting system ensuring the safety and prospering of the members of the community.

[2] Non-anglo.