As an avid reader, there are some classic books that I’ve somehow not read yet, and it makes me feel a little embarrassed. Easy enough problem to solve…right? Start reading some of the neglected books!
The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis is one such book that I just completed. In this witty and creative book, you read a series of letters written from a senior (experienced) devil to a junior (inexperienced) devil. Screwtape is his name, and his letters give advice on how to best tempt and lead astray the human that the junior devil, named Wormwood, is assigned to. As you read these letters, there is indeed valuable insight on how we can be distracted from the spiritual life.
In the introduction, I appreciated CS Lewis clarifying some of his beliefs. Does he really believe in the Devil? Well, no, if you mean by “the Devil” a power opposite of God and, like God, self existent from all eternity. God has no opposite. There is no uncreated being except God. But, yes, Lewis believes in devils. That is, he believes in angels, and some of these angels abused their free will and became enemies of God. These are devils. Devil is the opposite of angel only as bad man is the opposite of good man. Satan, the leader of the devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael the archangel. I appreciated Lewis clarifying this, as even today some Christians seem to have an inaccurate “Star Wars” type view of good and evil forces.
I also appreciated a brief caution in the preface:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
Now I will share some of the ways that Screwtape suggests for leading humans astray, which I think have valuable lessons for us.
- We often think of the Devil as putting wrong thoughts in our minds. Yet, the Devil may best deceive us, not by putting things in our mind, but by keeping things out of it.
- While the Devil can distract us with specific pleasures, perhaps more serious is his influence on us to…do nothing. To simply waste time doing silly and inconsequential things. Screwtape quotes a man newly arrived in hell as saying “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”
- The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones.
- The Devil wants to keep us from acting. To keep things in our mind only. Good thoughts, feelings, and ideas are useless if they don’t affect our will and lead us to right behavior and action.
- Confuse humans about what true humility is. Make them think it is having a low opinion of yourself, rather than self-forgetfulness.
- Distract humans from the eternal and the present…which is where God would like us to be. The present is where time touches eternity. Tempt humans by diverting their attention too much to the future. “…nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
- Get the humans to see Christianity as a means to an end – to see their faith as a means of personal advancement, social justice, etc. Thus their focus is off. “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.”
Is there a classic Christian book that you have never read yet? Or perhaps recently got around to reading? I’ve also not read…gasp…Pilgrim’s Progress. Perhaps that will the next neglected book I will tackle. How about you?