Sunday, February 3, 2008


I first read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis in 1975, and kept the small paperback copy I had of it until my daughter ran off with it (since returned). As a young man just starting my Christian walk, this book had a profound effect on me. Still, the years gave no opportunity for me to read it again until recently. I suggested to the co-teacher of our adult Sunday School class that this would be a good book to study. I found a study guide from Progeny Press, and we began the study last October, finishing up just today. While C.S. Lewis is sometimes very dense in his writing, everyone today said they were glad we did the study, that they got much out of it.

Now, much further into my Christian life, The Screwtape Letters has once again had a profound effect on me. I love the way Lewis puts himself into the voice of one of Satan's helpers, the senior demon Screwtape, who is corresponding with his nephew Wormword. Wormwood is just beginning his career as a tempter, and has been assigned to a young man in England, about the time that World War 2 is beginning. We never do learn who Wormwood is tempting; his is simply identified as "the Patient". But we learn much about him, as early in the book he becomes an adult convert to Christianity (reported by Wormwood and commented on by Screwtape in Letter 2). Screwtape tells Wormwood, "There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's [meaning God] camp and are not with us."

Throughout the rest of the book, Screwtape coaches Wormwood in the art of temptation, while Wormwood, in letters that we don't see, reports to Screwtape about what he is doing to tempt the patient and what the result is. The result is a wonderful insight into human nature, our relationship with God, and what temptation and sin are all about. When the patient's rocky relationship with his mother does not improve after his conversion, Screwtape tells Wormwood, "It is...impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always "spiritual," that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism." When the patient acquires a new set of friends, Screwtape says they "are just the sort of people we want him to know--rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly sceptical about everything in the world." When the patient meets and falls in love with a Christian woman who would be a perfect helpmate to him, Screwtape says of her, "a two-faced little cheat...who looks as if she'd faint at the sight of blood, and then dies with a smile...filthy, insipid little prude...she makes me want to vomit!"

With many such statements, Lewis keeps us entertained, while at the same time helping us to understand ourselves. In Letter 25 he talked about similarity and change, and has Screwtape tell how the world below has caused human ("two-legged vermin") to have a horror of "the same old thing". Humans want change, and the tempters should give it to them. But Screwtape warns Wormwood how God provides for change in a positive way. "The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart--an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconsistency in friendship...The humans...need change, [so] the Enenmy...has made change pleasurable to them....He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm." Wonder, wonderful stuff.

The main theme which seemed to stand out to me, in a way it didn't 33 years ago, was that Screwtape advised Wormwood to direct the man into a state of confusion. Confusion is what drives people to Satan. Unsaid was that order drives people to God: orderly habits, orderly thinking, orderly praying, etc.

If you haven't read The Screwtape Letters, I urge you to do so. Don't just read it: study it, meditate on it, reflection on Lewis's genius, and grow because of it.

1 comment:

Richard said...


Good thougths...I'm writting a message for this Sunday following Pastor Rickey's series on Decisions...we're going to be looking at "Distractions & Desires that can cause Derailments" - basically we're talking about temptation because we will face it if we're attempting to make god honoring decisions. Thanks for reminding me of this resource...I may use some thoughts or quotes in the message. Blessings ~ RLS