[this is part two of a series on The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. See What the Demons Taught Me: part 1 by Spencer Harmon]
1.) Selflessness is self-forgetfulness
Screwtape constantly reminds his young nephew to keep his patient away from self-forgetfulness and encourages him to, “…teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them” (141). If my main goal in giving my money to the poor is so that I can be known as a “generous person” I have a sinful motivation. Instead, I ought to find my joy in the joy of others. My preferences, interests, and “image” should be like morning fog being burnt away by the heat of the needs of my neighbor.
2.) Worldliness is worldliness no matter how many times you call it “experience”
Screwtape informs Wormwood that, “Real worldliness is a work of time – assisted, of course, by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense or Maturity or Experience” (156). My American Christianity needs a good dose of this reality. For it is easy to cloak my love for the things of the world by saying certain sinful things are bearable for “mature believers” while I lose my childlike desire to please my heavenly Father. If the movie is sinful I should not watch it; if the music is sensuous I should not listen to it; if the party is a house full of temptation I should not attend it. These are not legalisms that keep me from understanding my world better; these are prescriptions that help me see my Savior clearer.
3.) Faith and repentance is better than your most spiritual promises
Screwtape scolds Wormwood for his patient’s response to a recent “fall from grace” because he is not making, “…lavish promises of perpetual virtue,” but instead, “only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!” (69). Faithfulness does not always look flashy, and neither does daily dying. So often a fiery sermon, a fresh new book, or a stirring conversation incites a desire to promise God feats that he is not asking of me. Rather, God calls his sons and daughters to repentance and faith, and seeking his kingdom first. This is the radical Christianity we have been wanting: grace fueled obedience.
C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has functioned in my life as a mirror to my soul. So many times upon picking up the book I have had “Ah ha!” moments in which I discover a new insight on how spiritual warfare plays into my daily living – areas in which seem to me to be so “unspiritual” I hope some of these lessons will encourage you as you follow Christ today.
1.) Don’t Seek Feelings, Seek the Lord
While advising Wormwood on how to keep his man from praying, Screwtape says, “Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling…” (17). The fountain of my spiritual feelings ebbs and flows. To base the effectiveness or the frequency of my prayers on these feelings is detrimental to praying with confidence that God hears me. We ought to seek the Lord’s face in prayer, and not some ideal fleeting feeling that will not always console us. Pray through the night, even if it seems you are praying to an empty sky.
2.) Even When You Are Doubting God, Obey Him
This is perhaps one of the most famous quotes out of The Screwtape Letters, and hangs on many refrigerators wherever the book is cherished. Screwtape warns Wormwood that, “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” (40). Obedience is the medicine of the soul who is sick. Disobedience in times of doubting and spiritual dryness is one of Satan’s great weapons to keep the Christian in the feedback loop of despair and away from our Father’s best. Even when you feel like doing nothing, be obedient. Trust your Father.
3.) Don’t Dress Up Your Sin In Humor
Screwtape counsels Wormwood that, “A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke” (56). The weightiness of sin becomes as light as a feather when laughed about for long enough. If I find my sin becomes a joke, my sin may become reality. Sin should be dealt with in tears and repentance, not laughter and and hand waving.