8 Things I Learned from The Screwtape Letters

8 Things (3)

I recently read The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. And first of all, let me just say that it was amazing. You should definitely read this book (if you haven’t already). And if you haven’t yet read this book, here are the basics: Screwtape Letters is a collection of (fictitious) letters from Screwtape, a demon high in Satan’s chain of command, to his nephew, Wormwood, a “young tempter.”

I learned so much from this book (not to mention enjoying myself along the way). But here are my top 8:

(A quick note before you read my list: a couple of these are really bad spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book and intend to, please do so! (Preferably before reading my list…) You’ll be glad you did. If, however, you don’t plan on reading this book… then go right ahead! 🙂 )

1. We have an enemy.

This might seem really, really obvious, but we (or at least I) forget it so often. And we do have an enemy, against whom we fight. It’s not against flesh and blood, like we sometimes fall into believing. It’s against the “rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  Or, as it says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

But then comes my favorite part. Remembering that we have an enemy is scary unless you also remember that—spoiler alert—Jesus wins. It makes me think of a line from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy: “Ever singing, march we onward victors in the midst of fight.” We may have an enemy—but we are already victors by Jesus’ blood!

2. Evil cannot understand good… or, more specifically, love

I found this particularly striking. Screwtape first writes, “For we must never forget the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy [God]; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created…” Later, however, he corrects himself, writing,

“If… the Enemy’s idea of love is a contradiction in terms, what becomes of my reiterated warning that He really loves the human vermin and really desires their freedom and continued existence?… The truth is I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy really loves the humans. That, of course, is an impossibility… All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else—He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to find out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question.”

The insoluble question. That is how demons view love. Sounds an awful lot like 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

3. Spiritual warfare doesn’t stop when one becomes a Christian. 

Wormwood’s “patient” becomes a Christian in only Chapter 2! There are 170 more pages full of tricks and strategies by which Wormwood tries to “reclaim” the man in question. Before reading this book, I always thought it was the story of the tempting and control of unbelievers. But now it makes perfect sense. Satan isn’t trying to get at the unbelievers. He’s already got them! He wants to get at the Christians.

I found this absolutely eye-opening… and a bit startling. We, as Christians, shouldn’t have the mindset of “I’m a Christian, the demons are just going to leave me alone.” The truth is, they’re after you! When Peter wrote about “our adversary the devil,” he was addressing believers! We ought to be on the alert!

At the same time, we needn’t fear. God has already told us what to do. In Ephesians 6:11 He says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” And there are lots of things we can stand firm in: our eternal security by Jesus’ blood, God’s absolute faithfulness to His promises, the infallible Word of God, and the promise that Jesus is coming back (soon!).

4. We ought to live in the present.

Screwtape explains in detail the relation of the past, present and future to eternity. He tells Wormwood that the Enemy [God] wants humans to pay most attention either to eternity itself, or to the present, because “the present is the point at which time touches eternity.” He goes on to explain that God would either wish humans to be “either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.” The demons, then, as enemies of God, wish to make humans focus on the opposite of these two things: they tempt them to think about and live in either the past or the future.

Think about it. It’s so easy to get distracted from now. It’s easier to brood about the past, or long for it, or to look forward to the future, or dread it. It’s a whole lot harder to focus on loving the people in your life right now, or to obey God right now.

Reading about the enemies’ battle strategies helps me to be more aware of the tactics they’re using against me, and try to counteract them. This helps me see how important it is to live in the present.

5. A woman of God disgusts the demons (and that’s a good thing!). 

The demon’s “patient” falls in love a little more than halfway through the book. And with quite the woman! I love the way Screwtape describes this woman of God, because it is (in a backwards way) pretty close to what I’d like to be. To be such a woman, so committed to God, so Christ-like, that you absolutely disgust the demons, and scare them, and interfere with their plans… Well.

Here’s the description Screwtape gives of this young woman:

I have looked up this girl’s dossier and am horrified at what I find. Not only a Christian but such a Christian—a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit… The sort of creature who’d find ME funny!… The very house she lives in… reeks of that deadly odour.

So, let’s just say Screwtape doesn’t like this girl. Or is that an understatement? Maybe so…

But I find this to be a sort of backwards example of what a godly girl ought to be… or at least the reaction she ought to incite from her enemy. Remember that Screwtape can’t understand love, which means he thinks that everyone who’s loving must have an ulterior motive, even if they really don’t. I laugh when I read this, but at the same time… it’s something to think about. How do the demons feel about you and I?

6. Prayer is powerful! 

Prayer is one of those things that Christians know they should do, but just kind of… don’t. Not as much as they should, at least. But it doesn’t take long for the demons to address “the painful subject of prayer.” Maybe because they have an inkling of how powerful it is in this war we’re fighting.

“The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether… It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

How often do you and I really—really— sit down with the “serious intention” to pray? Um, let me guess… not a lot?

And when that doesn’t work? “Turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.” I relate to this one! So often, when I go to pray, I start thinking about… other things. Myself, a lot of times. It can be really hard to focus on praying… especially for much longer than a few minutes on end.

But why do the demons care so much? Listen to this: “Wherever there is prayer, there is danger of His [God’s] own immediate action.” And this is just about one of the scariest things those demons can imagine. Because when God acts… well, let’s just say He’s a lot stronger than any old demon.

Kind of makes you want to pray, huh?

7. The dry spots are where the Christian has the most opportunity to please God. 

In chapter 8, Screwtape explains the Law of Undulation to Wormwood, which is “a series of troughs and peaks”. He says that the “Enemy” uses the troughs much more than He uses the peaks. He goes on to say:

The prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best… He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

Whoa. Go back and read that last sentence again. It literally gives me chills. We often think of the “troughs” as a time of only surviving… but forget that it is in those times, the times when it’s easiest to doubt and hardest to obey, that our obedience will really please God.

It reminds me of Job, who, even in his great trials, could say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It also makes me think of so many godly people I know who have suffered terribly in their lives, and, even in the midst of horrible, horrible trials, look me in the eye and say “God is good.” It inspires me… I pray that, by the grace of God, I’ll be able to do that when I face trials.

8. Death holds no power over the believer—and the demons know it. 

Death is the great enemy of humanity. Because of sin, every single person who has not been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone—regardless of whether or not they’ve been good, or read their Bible, or anything else—will die, and when they die, will go to Hell, where they will face God’s judgement for eternity. That’s a grim reality that we all face.

But God.

God sent His Son Jesus to save us—to take our punishment and be our atonement. And because, after dying on the cross, He rose again, He conquered death. And that means that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Death has no hold over the Christian!

This is evidenced by Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood regarding the war: “Do you not know that bombs kill men? Or do you not realize

that that patient’s death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid?” Um, wait a minute. This is a demon. Why doesn’t he want this man to die? Because “he will almost certainly be lost to us if he is killed tonight.”

If a Christian dies, he is immediately with Christ in heaven. He is of no further use to the demons. But while the Christian is alive, “there is always hope” that the tempters will be able to rob the Christians of their good testimony, their joy, their peace, their devotion to God, or any number of other things. So Screwtape signs off, “Keep your patient as safe as possible.”

It’s a bit eerie to think about: That our enemies would want to keep us safe. That, in some cases, death is worse for the cause of the devil than anything else.

It just goes to show that death really is “swallowed up in victory,” that Christ really has conquered the grave, and that our enemy has been defeated so much sthat to die is gain for the believer (Philippians 1:21).

[A note here to the unbeliever: If you haven’t trusted in Christ alone for salvation, death does hold power over you, because of your sin and the righteous requirement of the law. If you’ve never become a Christian, I want you to really, truly think about your eternal destiny… and remember that even though you (and I, and everyone) justly deserve hell, Jesus took that punishment on Himself, so that we could go free. See this post for my testimony.]

 

Well, that’s it for my list. I could go on and on, but then there’d be no reason for you guys to read the book yourselves!

I hope you were encouraged by this list, and that this helps you in your fight against our enemy. And always remember the best part… God wins!

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

 

Anything to comment?

  • If you’ve read this book yourself, tell me what you learned!
  • And if you have plans to read it, tell me about those, too!
  • What was your favorite from my list? I’d love to know! 
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