The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 28

What’s the worst thing that could happen to me? What’s the worst thing that might happen to someone we love in time of war? In Chapter 28 Screwtape gives us a different perspective on ‘life and death’, a dispassionate perspective that is embedded outside of time. Chapter 28 can be downloaded here:

Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood is based on the premise that, ultimately, eternity is all that matters. In his mind, whatever happens in the present, within space and time, is only of passing significance. Heaven or Hell is forever. From birth, death is a certainty and the shortness of a human life simply makes the job of the tempter more difficult. While a careful reading of scripture might not fully agree with Screwtape’s premise, his argument gives us pause to think.

For our consideration:

  1. What is really the worst thing that could happen to us today?
  2. What is your plan for perseverance in Christ, even through the mundane, even through challenges and stressful times?
  3. Who or what might assist you in the implementation of your plan to persevere in Christ?

For further reflection:

5:1    Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 26

It should come as no surprise that Screwtape is so eager to destroy the growing relationship between ‘the patient’ and his girlfriend. In Chapter 26 he continues to seek opportunity within the ‘good’ God has gifted the couple. Chapter 26 can be downloaded here:

Screwtape sees an opportunity in ‘Unselfishness’ within the patient’s relationship. It allows the possibility of the sowing seeds of future bitterness, by assuming the other party to be selfish or unappreciative of the sacrifices of ‘Unselfishness’. Underlying this facade there is a base ‘self-righteousness’ which grasps for the moral high ground on the basis of whatever has been forgone in ‘Unselfishness’.

On the other hand, love (‘charity’, as C.S. Lewis defines it) freely surrenders itself without expectation of reward. Of course, Paul sees such love as an essential within the life of the Christian community:

1Cor. 13:1    If I speak in the tongues  of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,  but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8    Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 24

We have skipped over Chapters 22-23 where ‘the patient’ is now dating a Christian woman, who outrages Screwtape with her virtue and Christian character. She and her friends seem to be more mature Christians than ‘the patient’, which Screwtape suggests Wormwood exploit. Chapter 24 can be downloaded here:

Screwtape argues that Spiritual Pride might be just the way to bring down ‘the patient’. Instead of humility, ‘the patient’ should be tempted to be adopt a sense of superiority in relation to his unbelieving friends. At the time C.S. Lewis wrote these ‘letters’ (during World War 2), it may well have been possible to harbour Spiritual Pride in relation to the remainder of a society which shared a Christian world-view, if not Christian faith. But in our time, Christians are much more a minority. We have moved from being ‘the good guys’ to being ‘the bad guys’ (as argued in this excellent book by Stephen McAlpine).

But this change in dynamic does not necessarily eradicate Spiritual Pride. Instead, we now are more likely to elevate ourselves over our fellow Christians. We like to think of ourselves as superior to the others in our church; or perhaps those others in a different denomination.

The apostle Paul addressed this same problem among the Corinthian Christians:

1Cor. 1:10    I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,  in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13    Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

18    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: 

  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 

20    Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26    Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 

1 Corinthians 1:10-31

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 21

More than ever before we are time poor. We are prepared to pay money in order to save time. Waiting is anathema! Moreover, we demand time for ourselves; to do our thing, to indulge our passions, to express our will, our way. In Chapter 21 Screwtape advises an attack on “the patient’s” desire for some ‘me’ time. We are challenged to answer the question of the ownership of our time– whose is it? Chapter 21 can be downloaded here:

Job, the ancient sage who lost everything– children, property, wealth, health and status– claimed that God owed him an answer. He demanded vindication and an explanation for his tragic circumstances. But God remained silent for 37 chapters. When he did finally speak to Job, God first established ownership. Our Creator is the one who ‘owns’ our time, our capabilities and our resources.

Job 38:1    Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

2    “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels  shouted for joy?…

18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. 19 “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? 20 Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? 21 Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! 22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, 23 which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? 24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?

32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? 33 Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? 34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? 35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?

Job 40:1    The LORD said to Job: 2    “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?Let him who accuses God answer him!”

3    Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more…”

Job 42:2    “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job 38-42

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 19

In Chapter 19 Screwtape wrestles with the concept of love– and the possibility that God might freely love the human beings he created. From his perspective, to admit that God really does love human beings is a dangerous heresy. Chapter 19 can be downloaded here:

For your consideration:

  1. What (false) assumptions does Screwtape hold about God?
  2. What has Screwtape misunderstood about Love?

The nature of God and his Love for us is clearly set out in the Bible– but perhaps we skim over this truth too quickly. We might never consider the horror of the circumstance that Screwtape has imagined– that God’s love is a pretext for some nefarious scheme, still undisclosed. The trustworthiness of God and his love for us provide us with profound assurance. The following passage might serve a springboard for responsive prayers of thanksgiving for God’s love:

9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13    This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19    We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:9-21

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 17

God has gifted us with many good ‘appetites’, for good things, even essential things. Without our thirst, perhaps we’d die of dehydration. Without our appetite for love, we might not ‘bond’ with our families from the youngest of ages. Appetites can be good gifts from God. But they can also be distorted and manipulated into addictions. It could be said that such addictions and appetites have become ‘gods’ which we ‘worship’, having abandoned self-control.

In Chapter 17 Screwtape invites Wormwood to consider the potential of gluttony to destroy the faith of his ‘patient’. Chapter 17 can be downloaded here:

With C.S. Lewis we might wonder when we last heard a sermon about gluttony and about the excesses of indulgence. We might wonder about the spirituality of ‘appetite’– within a popular culture that affirms all passions, urges and appetites. We’re told, “If we want it, it must be good. Whatever our hunger, it is right to be satisfied. We should never deny our appetite.”

The apostle Paul, however, calls the Philippians to take a different view.

17    Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Philippians 3″17-21

For your consideration:

  1. According to Paul here, what might be the antidote to gluttony (and all uncontrolled passions of the flesh)?
  2. Practically speaking, how might we set our minds on heavenly things?

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 16

“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 16.

It seems that our contemporary tendency to go ‘church shopping’ is not new. In Chapter 16 Screwtape invites Wormwood to consider the potential of ‘church shopping’ to upset the faith of his ‘patient’. Chapter 16 can be downloaded here:

Our local churches are each marked by a variety of local customs, traditions and habits. And sometimes, we can hold on to such things with greater gusto than our love of prayer, the riches of Christian fellowship or of the bible itself. Our treasured customs may not be ‘wrong’ on principle, but our hold upon them may be unhealthy, even unholy. Paul writes to the Romans about how we ought to conduct ourself in such situations:

Romans 14:1    Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5    One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Romans 14:1-8

For your consideration:

  1. Does your local church have an unhealthy commitment to some tradition or custom, which may threaten the weaker faith of a fellow Christian? What might you do about this?
  2. What seem to you to be ‘worthy’ reasons to choose one local church over another?
  3. What matters most to you at your current church? What ought to matter most?

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 14

Is it dangerous to think too much about Christian virtue? In giving our attention to our personal growth in love, patience, humility or Christ-likeness, do we undermine the very attributes in which we seek to excel? In chapter 14, it seems that Screwtape would like “the patient” to occupy himself with this conundrum.

Chapter 14 can be downloaded here:

Screwtape’s schemes to undo “the patient” give us a helpful insight into the nature of Christian virtue. The true end of virtue, and humility in particular, is that we turn our attention towards God and towards others. This happens as, instead of becoming more self-centred, we become increasingly other-person-centred. Love, the supreme virtue, leads us to value and celebrate ‘the other’ without false piety or pretended humility. Instead of self-loathing, we become self-forgetful– not devaluing ourself or the great worth that God has bestowed upon each of us. In this way, we still glorify God through the excellence of our endeavours but stay far away from pride.

So, Paul writes to the Colossians:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:12-14

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 13

When faced with a challenge, we may have received advice, “just be yourself”. But if we’re anxious, frightened and insecure, maybe we don’t want to be ourself– or that version of ourself. The desire to find “our true self” stands at the root of much within our contemporary culture. Identity is fiercely defended. We demand the right to live out our chosen identity, whatever that may be right now.

Into this debate, Screwtape’s 13th letter provides some insights from the depths of hell. Chapter 13 can be downloaded here:

The flip of Screwtape’s advice (for that is the filter we employ when reading his letters) seems to be that we are most truly ‘ourself’ when we give up self-will and find our identity in relationship with God and his people. Still enjoying all the good that we uniquely value– (even county cricket and coco!)– we are never emptied of personality or sensibility or verve. Rather, we are absolutely secure, at rest, and satisfied when we know ourself to be loved by God.

Further, we might meditate on what God says of us in scripture.

1    LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. 2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? 5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. 6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8

15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:15-17

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 12

“The safest road to Hell is the gradual one– the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Uncle Screwtape, Letter 12, in The Screwtape Letters.

In Screwtape’s 12th letter, he teaches Wormwood the best way to draw a young Christian away from God comprises the gentlest, most subtle, of delusions. The wedge begins imperceptibly but ends with the rejection of all genuine repentance. Chapter 12 can be downloaded here:

It is arguable as to whether a true Christian might ever be so lured away from God that their salvation is lost. Perhaps Screwtape is unaware of God’s promises of faithful perseverance? Nevertheless, Screwtape’s recommended subversion of “the patient’s” daily Christian living would certainly rob him of joy and cause him to doubt the authenticity of his Christian experience. Particularly, Screwtape recommends keeping him from genuine repentance, while ‘allowing’ small sins to remain embedded in his life. “Murder is no better than cards, if cards can do the trick.”

Jesus’ letters to the churches in Revelation urge true repentance so that our hearts do not grow ‘lukewarm’.

14   “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. 

21    To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3:14-22

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 11

Chapter 11 continues Screwtape’s assessment of “the patient’s” new friends. The ‘laughter’ of friendship can be derived from multiple sources, and may (according to Screwtape) come in 4 different forms– each with its own potential to lead “the patient” closer to, or further from, God. Chapter 11 can be downloaded here:

The impact of our speech and conversation– on others and upon ourself– is so significant that Paul warns the Ephesians to take great care. The premise of this warning is that we are God’s holy people. We are to behave and to speak as those set apart for God, with no ‘share’ (partnership) with the disobedient. Paul writes:

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

Ephesians 5:3-7

For your reflection:

  • We all enjoy the banter and laughter of good friendship. Which of the four forms of laughter typify you and your friends: (i) Joy, (ii) Fun, (iii) the Joke Proper, and (iv) Flippancy?
  • Why might Flippancy be particularly ‘risky’ for the Christian?
  • How might you cultivate Joy in your friendships?
  • How might you cultivate greater gratitude and thanksgiving in your life (see v4 above).

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis– letter 10

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

1Corinthians 15:33   

In Chapter 10 Screwtape is very pleased with some new friends who have entered “the patient’s” orbit. He encourages Wormwood to use them to undermine godliness and character. Chapter 10 can be downloaded here:

For your reflection:

  • Do you have friends or acquaintances who do not know that you are a Christian? If you have, on occasion, kept your faith a ‘secret’ from them, you might reflect on your motive. In all honesty, why have you done this?
  • Do you have friends whose influence in your life seems to take you further away from the kind of life that you know honours Jesus Christ? Do you have friends whose influence seems to enrich or enhance your discipleship of Jesus Christ?

The apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians Christians, encouraging them to remember his integrity as a Christian leader, friend and visitor among them. His example is certainly inspiring for us.

1    You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.  Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12