The word "evil" here is being translated from the Greek word πονηρός (ponēros), which means, according to Strong's lexicon, "full of labours, annoyances, hardships;" and "bad, of a bad nature or condition." The latter definition is further defined with 1) in a physical sense: diseased or blind; 2) in an ethical sense: evil wicked, bad."
Thus the word is a bit more complex than is typically assumed. But we get a clearer meaning when we match it with the rest of the sentence - namely the word πειρασμός (peirasmos), which is being translated to the word "temptation."
The word πειρασμός (peirasmos) means, according to the lexicon, "an experiment, attempt, trial, proving" and "the trial of man's fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy."
Thus we can see that Jesus is speaking of being tested. And being tested means having a choice. While the word temptation often elicits the notion of responsibility to someone else - as though someone else is tempting us and we are innocent victims, the reality is that the original word relates to being tested. "trial" and "proving" relate directly to this.
And this is elaborated on by "the trial of man's fidelity." In other words, if a married man is presented by a beautiful woman, this might prompt "the trial of a man's fidelity."
And certainly, one might refer to this as the man being tempted. But what it really is, is a test. The man is being tested. His fidelity is being tested.
This is precisely what Jesus is referring to here - being tested - translated to "temptation."
And what is the source of this test - or temptation? One might certainly refer to this as "evil" but what is the root?
The root of the test - or temptation - is freedom. We were each given the freedom to love God or not. We were each given the freedom of serving God or not.
This is because love requires freedom of choice. A person cannot be forced to love.
And because of this, the Supreme Being constantly gives us the option not to love Him, and not to serve Him.
But there is a root cause of being tested. For example, children are tested in school. Why? Because they are learning. They are tested for their comprehension of the subject.
So why are we tested? We are tested because we are not completely sure whether we want to love and serve God or love and serve ourselves. For this reason, we are constantly being tested.
This doubt is born from self-centeredness. And self-centeredness is the core root of evil. Self-centeredness is what causes us to act for our own pleasure. For our own reputation or our own wealth or our own future. Self-centeredness is also the root cause of activities that hurt others. The root of evil is self-centeredness.
Love is the opposite of self-centeredness. Love is caring about someone else more than we care about ourselves. When we are loving someone, there is no room for self-centeredness.
It is like the sun and darkness. When the sun comes up there is no darkness. One replaces the other.
And real love is founded upon love for the Supreme Being. Because He is the Source of love. When we are in a loving relationship with the Supreme Being, that love naturally extends to others just as light completely erases the darkness.
So the purpose of our being tested is to make us aware of our degree of self-centeredness. We might think that we are being tested by the Supreme Being so He can see how progressed we are in our spiritual journey.
But He already knows this. He doesn't need to test us in order to know where we are in our spiritual progress.
But we need to know. This is how we can know our progress. First, we can know how progressed we are in our spiritual progress by the fact that we are being tested at all. If we are presented with something we are attracted to, then the test itself illustrates our degree of self-centeredness.
And if we give in and proceed with that which is attractive to us - being tested - we are allowed to see just how fallen we actually are.
The temptations of the world are also indicators for our need to take shelter in God. As we are being tempted or tested, we have the choice to submit ourselves one way or another. We can either submit ourselves to what we are being tempted or tested with.
Or we can submit ourselves to the Supreme Being. We can take shelter of Him as our only Refuge from the onslaught of materialism and self-centeredness.
The reason we are here in this physical world of test and temptation in the first place is that at some point we rejected God. We chose not to do His will. So we landed in the physical world, and took on a temporary physical body.
The entire material dimension, including all the tests and temptations here, is the result of this primary, original rebellion.
In other words, we brought this situation upon ourselves. We have no one to blame but ourselves, and the decisions we made to disobey God. We must now decide whether we are finished with our rebellion or wish to continue it. Every individual temptation we are faced with is a test of our current decision: Do we continue our rebellion or submit to His will?
The material world was built with an automatic mechanism that continues to tempt us. This is to allow us the choice to stay separated from God if we want to. How else could the Supreme Being allow us our complete freedom? If He didn't offer the converse of loving Him and serving Him in an attractive manner, our choice would not be an objective one. The decision would not be ours.
So we can see the temptations of the world in this light. There is no devil standing on our shoulder tempting us. Temptations are simply expressions of the Supreme Being's desire for us to decide out of freedom to return to Him only when we are determined to return to Him.
In order to return to God, we have to counteract this tremendous mechanism of temptation and testing. Counteracting it requires work, patience, tolerance and diligence. It also requires that we take shelter of the Supreme Being, because we cannot counteract this mechanism by ourselves.
By praying to God that He lead us not into temptation, Jesus is recommending that we take shelter of the Supreme Being. He is confirming that we cannot do this alone. We cannot avoid or pass through the tests of temptation without His help.
It is through this submission, when requested sincerely and humbly (and not out of any feeling that He owes us anything) that He comes to our rescue.
It is from our humble submission to God that we find our refuge from the storms of this world, and uncover His mercy and His unconditional love for us.
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)