The problem of evil is one that all humans face. We might debate the details of its origin or how to resolve it, but we generally agree on its existence. In this article I will be reflecting on how the Bible exhorts Christians to seek deliverance from evil, in relation to the temptation to combine African traditional religions with the Christian faith.
We might debate the details of evil’s origin, but we generally agree on its existence.
In traditional African religions, as Adamo says, evil is both moral and physical; it “concerns any misfortune that befalls an individual or community or any voluntary antisocial behaviour or any infringement of the decrees of God, the deity or the ancestors.” This is why “propitiatory sacrifices become one of the major ways by which Africans deliver themselves from the effects of evil in the world.” Because the need for sacrifices are embedded both in many Africans’ religious outlook as well as culture, it’s a very difficult practice to abandon.
In this article I reflect on the biblical solution for seeking deliverance from evil, and how this speaks into our traditional practices. Can Africans be in Christ and continue with sacrifices? Should African Christians consult the ancestors or the local sangoma for deliverance? How does the Bible exhort Africans to seek deliverance from the problem of evil? Will we find salvation through a blend of the Christian faith and traditional practices?
The Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver Us from Evil”
The Bible gives one solution for seeking deliverance from evil: prayer (Matthew 6:13). Now, this can be difficult for us to hear, especially considering that our worldview provides us with various alternatives that promise to resolve our problems. Practices handed down by our forefathers, which we’ve implemented and seen fruits from. When we ask our neighbours or family, they recommend one thing when we’re suffering. But Jesus teaches that prayer is foundational. It is the greatest tool at our disposal, when seeking deliverance from evil.
The Bible gives one solution for seeking deliverance from evil: prayer.
In the Lord’s prayer, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray thus, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13) he revealed how he desired his disciples to seek deliverance from evil. Now, there are other biblical responses to evil like forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32), love (1 Peter 4:8), and doing good to those who do evil to us (Romans 12:17, 19-21). But prayer is the Christian standard. It is how we should request supernatural intervention. Regardless of the evil we face or situation we’re in, God gives prayer as the solution.
Some might say: ‘Jesus is a Jew speaking to Jews. Prayer was their traditional way for seeking deliverance. As Africans we have our own African traditional ways.’ This is reasonable observation. However, Jesus made prayer a necessity for all his disciples when he commanded all nations be taught to obey his commands (Matthew 28:20). Thus he made it necessary that all of his disciples be taught to pray for deliverance from evil. All cultures have their traditional means to fight evil. But Jesus expects that when we become his disciples we bring the problem of evil to him, in prayer.
Evaluate Your Traditional, Cultural Solutions to Evil
Some of the most famous words from the New Testament are found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He writes: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your request be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Interestingly, Philippi was a non-Jewish territory. In other words, the recipients of Paul’s letter would have undoubtedly possessed their own traditions and practices to ward off evil. They already had means of deliverance and would’ve previously trusted various gods or deities, along with superstitions. Yet Paul exhorts prayer. God’s solution to the universal problem of evil doesn’t change, from place to place or culture to culture. Prayer is the standard.
Part of the transformation that Christianity brings to each culture is how it seeks supernatural intervention.
In fact, part of the transformation that Christianity brings to each culture is how it seeks supernatural intervention. Philippi was also the place where Paul met a slave girl with a spirit of divination. Through that spirit she “brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16). Other spiritual forces and religious practices existed in Philippi. They even appear to possess a degree of power and ‘success.’ Yet Paul says to the people living there: pray about everything. The Christian faith doesn’t deny supernatural intervention. Instead God redirects us away from the traditions, things, places, and people to himself. Thus we pray: “deliver us from evil.”
Don’t Mix Religion with Your Prayers
When we consider how the Bible exhorts believers to seek deliverance from evil in relation to traditional African solutions, there is a clear discontinuity. Whatever great knowledge we’ve inherited from our forefathers for dealing with evil spirits and witchcraft, God invites us to speak directly to him. Though we used to consult the ancestors and make sacrifices, we have one mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). He made a single, sufficient, and final offering (Hebrews 10:14). When we come to Christ, the Bible exhorts us to pray.
When seeking deliverance from evil, we must pray. We must seek his help, without hedging our bets.
Biblically, we cannot be in Christ and continue with our traditional practices of seeking supernatural help by making sacrifices, consulting a sangoma, or venerating our ancestors. When seeking deliverance from evil, we must pray. We must seek his help, without hedging our bets.