Taken from the C.S. Lewis Study Program ‘The Screwtape Letters’ a six-part video study guide of one of the most popular and profound works of C.S. Lewis. By Dr. Jerry Root – noted C.S. Lewis scholar and faculty member at Wheaton College. CSLewisInstitute
The Screwtape Letters is a satirical Christian apologetic novel written in epistolary style by C. S. Lewis, first published in book form in February 1942. The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. The uncle’s mentorship pertains to the nephew’s responsibility for securing the damnation of a British man known only as “the Patient”. The Screwtape Letters comprises thirty-one letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, a younger and less experienced demon, who is charged with guiding a man toward “Our Father Below” (Devil / Satan) and away from “the Enemy” (God). (Read more, including the plot of the book at Wikipedia)
Here are the six parts Dr. Root covers in 4 separate videos (which I will posts as soon as they each become available):
- Doctrine of Hell
- Three major themes that run through these letters
- Antidote to Screwtape’s wiles and what Lewis might say about how we might protect ourselves against various forms of temptation.
Last Part 6 - Escaping the Wiles of the Devil
Dr. Root, C.S. Lewis scholar at Wheaton College, Illinois, in his last lecture gives some antidotes to Screwtape’s wiles and ways to avoid temptations and see more victory from the writing of C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters. If you want to escape the wiles of the evil one, take the love that He has given you, and let that be the canvas on which you will paint the struggles of growing in courage and temperance and justice.
Screwtape’s overtures must be detected and overcome. How can this be done? Any study of C S Lewis’s Screwtape Letters must end with a word of hope and some positive advice, as to how we can become less and less susceptible to the wiles of the evil one. In Mere Christianity, C S Lewis said he thought pride was the great sin. And, certainly pride is one area, one thread on which several of the Screwtape Letters are held together. When Lewis says ‘pride is a great sin’ though, I would tend to take issue with him, unless he means by ‘great sin’, like the apex of a pyramid is the greatest point of a pyramid, I’m comfortable with what he’s claimed. Lewis wasn’t the only one who said pride was the greatest sin. Augustine, in his commentary on Psalm 19 says the same thing. And, many christians throughout time.
But, let me see if I can make a case. If, again, they mean pride is at the apex of a pyramid, it’s at the end of a process. We know that the apex of the pyramid is being supported by things far more substantive beneath the apex. But, let me explain what we discover as we go to the parts that are the more substantive of the pyramid, where something like pride would be the apex. I am not talking, too, of pride as pride in a job well done. I’m talking about that form of pride that manifests itself as a kind of pretense- making myself look better than I am. Deluding myself into thinking I am better than I am, or wanting other people to buy into the delusion.
Could it not be that maybe pride is preceded by insecurity and fear. If you knew me as I am, you might reject me. So I try to make myself better than I am. If this is true, then the Bible is explicit about what would be beneath – fear and insecurity. 1 John 4:18 “perfect love casts out fear”. Now, you and I have never been loved perfectly by another human being before. Well meaning people have done the best they can, but we’ve still picked up mixed messages. So, consequently, if perfect love casts out fear, a corollary might be that imperfect love breeds anxiety. And, each of us, by the methods we picked up from others, have been at some level saddled with the burden of anxiety. Furthermore, it gets worst before it gets better. You and I have never loved anybody perfectly either. So people in our world, who have looked to us for love. Though we’ve done the best we know how, we’ve still saddled them with some burden of anxiety.
There’s only one person who knows you utterly and loves you completely, and that’s God. His love is non contingent, it’s not based any kind of performance on our part. When we fail, He loves us and forgives us. When He’s picked us up by His grace, His love nurtures us. His love is not increased by our performance, nor is it diminished by our failure. This is overwhelming. God knows us and loves us completely. That doesn’t mean He’s not disappointed at our failure. But His love is such that He remains with us. He’ll never leave us or forsake us.
Therefore, it would appear that the greatest sin, at the base of the pyramid is to reject the love of God, to be unwilling to accept the love of God in our lives.
Antidote – The love of God.
Security in the love of God is a preventative, making us less susceptible to Screwtape’s temptation and offerings. Lewis writes an essay: First and Second Things. You put first things first, you get second things thrown in. You put second things first, you lose out on first and second things. For, who can eat, and who can enjoy life without Him? Screwtape provides false notions of the self and of the world. When we define ourselves by these falsehoods, we become susceptible by the things he suggests will fulfill us. We look for artificialities, rather than something substantive in God. God loves you. He knows you and He loves you. And, nothing will keep you safe from the evils of the wicked one more than the realization of God’s love for you and your loving response to Him. Trusting that He has your best welfare at stake, so you don’t start looking for it in other places. I think we need to define ourselves by how He sees us and He loves us. We are always having a great love story told to us, by the great lover of our souls, and we live most of our lives out of cognition. There are brief moments when we get it. He loves us and we’re overwhelmed. And then, we fall out of cognition as quickly as we fell into cognition.
In the heart of God, He offers us the best He can offer us- His love. And we, instead, vector off towards artificialities. The love of God keeps us secure. If you neglect God’s love, you will begin to drift away from Him and drift towards those artificialities that we use as a substitute for God. And once Screwtape could move towards these idols, these artificialities, he’ll start to have His way with us. We, withdrawing into ourselves and becoming self-referential, we also look on others in a utilitarian way, which compounds our sense of isolation. We also increase our own sensitivities, becoming more easily hurt by the actions of others around us, while becoming less sensitive to the hurt others around us may be enduring because of us. Photo below via www.pastormattrichard.com
Growing in Virtue
There is something we can do in order to grow in grace as well
Growing in Virtue 2 Peter 1:1-11 and Lewis also writes about virtue in Mere Christianity. Virtue is an integrated hole. Virtue is a means to the good life. Virtue had facets, but they were all interdependent. - These things grow in response to our love for God. These are the offerings of our love back to God, in loving response. All these are habits, too, by the way.
- Courage is the habitual ability to suffer pain and hardship. It’s endurance, fortitude, it’s staying power. Courage is the ability to say “Yes” to right action, even in the teeth of pain. Our own moral development will not progress if we don’t have this endurance. When the temptation comes we endure. When we run the risk of vectoring we need to endure in our loving response to God. We need to lather up again in God’s love for us, that we might triumph over some of these other things.
- Temperance, on the other hand is the habitual ability to resist the enticement of immediate pleasure, in order to gain the more remote good. If courage is the ability to say “yes” in the right action even in the teeth of pain, temperance is the ability to say “no” to wrong action even in the jaws of pleasure. And we can do that most readily, when we’re most satisfied in our relationship with God. If you find yourself caving in because you’re intemperate, let the red light go on the dashboard of your life- God loves you, He forgives you… when the red light goes on, go to Him in your intemperance and receive from Him His grace, that you might reinsert yourself in the world. Temperance is a mark of maturity. When my children were little, they weren’t born temperate. When they were little, they would have been willing to sell their souls for sweets. They were easy marks for Screwtape whenever he came. If you want to escape the wiles of the evil one, take the love that He has given you, and let that be the canvas on which you will paint the struggles of growing in courage and temperance and justice.
- Justice is the habit of being law abiding and concerned with the common good and general welfare of ones society. Justice recognizes that my own moral development is interlinked with my responsibility to you. Justice seeks to secure and protect natural rights, to be fair and render to others their due. If I am engages in self-referential ways that treat you in a utilitarian way, my own character is diminished, and as a human being I am not enjoying life to the fullest. Justice testifies to the fact that character and development is connected to one’s responsibility to another. One’s moral development is linked to practicing fairness and showing genuine concern for the welfare of others.
- Wisdom. Lastly, wisdom is the habit being careful about decisions one makes. It seeks counsel and advice. Wisdom is the perspective of the scaffold, it’s the perspective of God’s word, it’s the perspective of friends who bring to us insight that we wouldn’t have, if we were operating individually, or self-referentially. We need this wisdom.
The thing that keeps us moving in the realm of virtue and spiritual maturity is when it’s all built on the foundation of God’s love. God’s love is the antidote to the wiles of the evil one. Three weeks before C S Lewis died, an American girl wrote him a letter, and she had read the Narnian chronicles, and Lewis was on his deathbed, virtually. Nobody would have faulted him if he wouldn’t have wrote this girl back. But, he writes her a letter, this great christian leader, not struggle free in his life, but a struggler who learned the art of living through his struggles. He learned about the grace of God and the love of God. And Lewis writes this girl, as he’s on the threshold of eternity, to an 11 year old American girl on the threshold of her earthly experience, and he says to her, “If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much will go wrong with you. And I pray you may always do so.” It’s still great advice.