Every once in a while a book comes along that is so convicting I actually have to stop while reading it and pray. Every time I read The Screwtape Letters this is the experience I have.
The Screwtape Letters is an epistolary novel documenting the fictional correspondence of a senior demon to his nephew, telling the nephew how best to tempt his patient (a new believer) away from The Enemy (God) and toward Our Father Below (Satan). You actually only read the letters from the elder demon, Screwtape, but you are given some sense of what the younger demon is writing since Screwtape answers some of his questions.
First of all, that is just clever. Who would think to use demons to demonstrate the pitfalls sinners will encounter on earth? In some instances, the reader is terrified by how accurate the temptations are, but there are actually some pretty humorous parts of the letters as well. Lewis opens the book with a preface explaining that when speaking of demons one can dismiss them altogether or be too fascinated with them. I think this book is the perfect blend of seriousness over sin and temptation mixed with a little mockery of the demons themselves. Over the whole book there is a constant repetition of the Love of God for mankind. The demons find this disgusting, but Lewis cleverly and continually introduces this theme. The result is convicting and beautiful.
This time I went through the book with highlighter in hand and I found myself just highlighting huge paragraphs because everything with perfect. I’m sure everyone has very clever things to say about this book so I’m just going to share some passages that hit me. I’ll limit myself to three really good ones.
“You are much more likely to make your man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne hen he is dull and weary than by encouraging him to use it as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive. Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours.” Wow! Isn’t that awesome? Sometimes I just don’t think about how God is a God of pleasure. Sometimes I tend to think of pleasures as vaguely unspiritual. What a great way of looking at life! Later Screwtape talks about how even the reading of a good book can reinvigorate the spiritual life of a believer. Can you see why I love this book?
Screwtape suggests his nephew tempt his patient by using the aspect of humor called flippancy. “Flippancy is best of all…any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the enemy that I know.” Now, even if you aren’t one to be flippant about serious things, have you ever been part of a conversation where everyone else is being flippant and you don’t want to be the kill joy with “no sense of humor.” I know I for sure have and have probably been tempted to just go along with what everyone else is saying. That definitely gave me something to think about. Earlier in the book Screwtape mentions how the word “Puritanical” (I think…or maybe it was just puritan) has been one of their greatest triumphs. I would maybe add the word “judgmental” or “legalistic.” Somehow just being serious about sin makes you instantly “judgmental.” Such a great reminder to be on the lookout for little cracks in our defenses where the devil finds a way in!
Eventually the patient suffers his first waning of religious feeling after his conversion. He is still going to church, which Screwtape thinks is good since he still considers himself a Christian since he retains the habits of one. “While he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized sin, but only with the vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.” This is where I paused and though, “oh no, this is about to be very convicting.” Further down the page Screwtape goes on to say, “If such a feeling is allowed to live but not allowed to become irresistible and flower into real repentance, it has one invaluable tendency. It increases the patient’s reluctance to think about the Enemy. All humans at nearly all times have some such reluctance; but when thinking of Him involves facing and intensifying a whole vague cloud of half-conscious guilt, this reluctance is increased tenfold.” Uhm, yes, I have felt like that.
Those are just three of dozens that I had highlighted. If you haven’t read this book yet, please read it. Aside from a galvanization of my prayer life, I experienced an intense desire to read more Lewis. I think two years ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to read all his books. I never did that, but I did read quite a few. I now want to read even more of them. Thanks, Barbara from StrayThoughts and thanks Carrie from Reading to Know for giving us a great recommendation and a forum for what I am sure will be a great conversation.