The ScrewTape Letters–2 Themes, One Quote, and a Couple of Questions

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

C.S. Lewis is a literary giant.  His works have captivated the hearts and minds of thousands.  He has been a great help in many regards to the Christian church.  The present work under consideration is a valuable resource to believers who are struggling through this sin-filled world.  Fighting a war that the eye does not see proves significantly difficult for the follower of Jesus.  Thankfully, as Screwtape himself affirms, we have only a short amount of time with which we must struggle.

Two dominant themes came to bear on my mind as I read this classic.  (1)  The battle for the mind, or intellect, was at the forefront of the fight.  (2)  The hope of ultimate victory is ever present in the mind of Screwtape.  These two themes emerge over and over again as one reads the correspondence between the veteran tempter and his young protégé.

We can see the battle for the mind clearly stated in a number of places.  The opening letter has Screwtape encouraging Wormwood to “fix his (the patient’s) attention on the stream” (pg. 242).  The idea is to move his thoughts (attention) in a certain direction.  The battle is always for the mind.  Screwtape puts it plainly when he says, “But here, as in everything else, the way must be prepared for your moral assault by darkening the intellect” (pg. 351).   The idea of keeping the “patients” mind off of certain things and focused on others fills the letters.  Screwtape wants Wormwood to work hard a twisting the thoughts of his patient.  He knows that he battle begins and ends in the mind.  When minds are moved away from what is right, holy, and just, then the evil one(s) have won the day.

The second theme involves hope.  Screwtape is a demon filled with hope of future victory.  Although he knows full well the power and greatness of the adversary, he still thinks that ultimate victory is possible.  Even in the life of the “patient” there is hope that efforts will succeed in capturing the mind and heart.  Screwtape sees a “promising streak of dishonesty in him…” (pg. 323).  Maybe this can be used to win the day…at least its promising!  Even when “The World and the Flesh” fail, “a third Power remains” (pg. 363).  Hope is still present.  But the patient continues to persevere.  He stands firm and does not waver.  At the end it seems the patient has endured and has finished his race.  The patient is now in the presence of Jesus (“Him).  The battle for his soul is lost by Wormwood, Screwtape, and the powers of darkness.  But, their hope is not lost.  Screwtape makes this clear in the end.  “All that sustains me is the conviction that our Realism, our rejection (in the face of all temptations) of all silly nonsense and claptrap, must win in the end” (pg. 415). 

So, the battle is fought in the mind.  The apostle Paul knew this.  That is why he calls Christians to think of what is pure, honorable, right, and holy (Philippians 4:8).  And this battle does not end.  We know that in the end Satan and his legions will be cast into outer darkness.  They, however, are not convinced.  So they keep attacking.  This means we must keep fighting.  And we do so in the power God supplies through His Spirit.

My favorite quote comes from page 321.  The “patient” is now attending church.  It seems this is not something that can be undone presently.  So the next best thing, says Screwtape, is to send the man from church to church.  In his search a transformation may take place that will delight the demon.  As one searches for a church that suits them, “the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.”  In a Christian culture where church shopping is all too common, this strikes home.

If Lewis were sitting with me I would ask a couple of questions.  Does he believe that each person has a demon assigned to them?  I doubt that he does, but it does show up in the work as numerous individuals are linked to a specific demon.  I would also like to discuss the role that the demonic plays in our struggles.  Is it always the case that the devil and his legions are twisting things or does some spring from ourselves?  We, after all, must still deal with the residue of sinful flesh.

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