One of the most distressing phone calls I ever received came late one evening while my husband, Dave, fairly recently sustained as the bishop of our ward, was out of town on business.
The caller identified himself as a representative of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
My heart raced as I scrambled to remember if Dave was supposed to be on a plane that night.
The call was not about Dave, however. It was about Bob, his counselor in the bishopric.
Bob, who worked for the FAA and who was also away on business at the time, had been found murdered in his hotel room. The FAA representative was at the home of his widow, who wanted us to come.
I will never forget the wrenching experience of telling one of Bob’s daughters as she returned home from babysitting that night that someone had killed her father, or waking Bob’s mother who lived with them to inform her of her son’s senseless death.
Bob was truly one of the happiest, warmest people I have ever met. He had a friendly sense of humor, a solid faith, and a down-to-earth personality. I couldn’t imagine him deliberately hurting anyone, nor could I imagine why anyone would hurt him.
His killers took $40 and some credit cards. His murder has not been solved.
By any definition, the crime that widowed a good woman and left five children without their father was an evil act.
Fifteen years later, Bob’s wife and children, surrounded by the love and support of friends, family, and ward members and sustained by the Spirit, have found a remarkable degree of healing, hope, and even happiness.
They are, like their husband and father, cheerful, warm, friendly people with down-to-earth personalities and great faith.
Their paths have not been easy.
But somehow, God has delivered them from the grasp of this evil, making it possible for them to grow up, love others, and trust Him in spite of it.
Assuring our opportunity for deliverance from evil, whether outside us or inside us, is a major purpose of the Atonement of Christ. As Jesus concluded the Last Supper and prepared for Gethsemane and Golgotha, He left His blessing on His disciples whom He sent out into the world:
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. . . . Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . . that they may be made perfect in one. (John 17:15, 20–21, 23)
As we are among those who believe through the words of Christ’s Apostles, He prayed for each of us that night in Jerusalem.
He prayed for you. He prayed for me. And he prayed for Bob’s family.
If your life has been tainted by serious evil, Christ’s prayers specifically include you. His pleas that we will find deliverance from evil (both in the passage above and in the Lord’s Prayer) do not spare us from contact with evil, however.
Evil is ever before us all, working its insidious and divisive effects on our relationships with other people and with God.
But as we follow Christ’s teachings and example, we can overcome the estranging impact of evil on our relationships.
Fortunately, relatively few of us are the victims of such senseless and devastating violence as were Bob and his family.
Not so fortunately, all of us are affected, directly or indirectly, by evil.
As just one example, in a large study of 17,421 mostly white, middle-class, middle-aged, well-educated, and financially secure individuals completing an extensive medical screening questionnaire, only a third had not been affected as children by either divorce, abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), significant parental neglect, or parents who were mentally ill, addicted, or imprisoned.
One in ten reported having been frequently sworn at, insulted, or put down by parents or caretakers.
More than one in four said a parent had repeatedly pushed them, slapped them, thrown things at them, or hit them hard enough to leave a mark or injury.
Sexual abuse was reported by 28 percent of women and 16 percent of men.
One in eight had seen their mother frequently pushed, hit, kicked, bitten, or slapped.
Almost 90 percent of those who had experienced one of these categories had experienced more than one, magnifying their impact.
While I don’t know how representative this data is of LDS Church members in general, these unexpectedly high numbers are apparently the sobering realities for many in the world we live in.
My purpose in recounting the story of Bob and summarizing the above research is not to shout that the sky is falling.
But we do live in a mortal existence in which God permits evil to exist. He does it so that we might learn by our own experience how we feel about it and what we will do about it.
God stands ready to teach us how to use our experience here to mature our spirits, deepen our faith, and cherish one another more.
Submission to the sovereignty of God is the beginning. Thus, a prayer that ends, “deliver us from evil,” can only begin, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10).
When I read the Lord’s Prayer, I don’t just read the words He prays; I also read between the lines to see Christ’s humble compassion for us and our human condition. When evil estranges us from ourselves, from other people, and from God, compassion is the antidote.
And from this I conclude: Christ’s charitable compassion, His willingness to know me and to love me anyway—this is ultimately what delivers me from evil. This is what makes me truly free.
Find more powerful insights from Wendy Ulrich in Let God Love You: Why We Don't, How We Can.
What have you learned about yourself from your past and current relationships? We learn who we are and what we can hope for from others in the context of our relationships with family, friends, and others around us. Some of what we have learned and experienced may even blind us to what is really true about God, leaving us both yearning for and afraid of closeness with Him.
Coupling the teachings of Christ and His prophets with gospel-oriented ideas from her counseling background, Wendy Ulrich probes faulty assumptions that we may bring to our relationship with God. By understanding and healing these false beliefs and then following the teachings of Christ about how we can ''come unto Him,'' we learn to see God more accurately, rely on Him more trustingly, and become strengthened in His love.