A 31 day commentary by Madelyn Christian Peterson
Although fiction, beloved Christian apologetic novel The Screwtape Letters certainly does not lack spiritual truths. Its 31 chapters are a perfect format for a month long commentary series. Join me as we break down CS Lewis’s beloved novel and get insight on the spirit war in a creative and fun new way. Want more? Find a copy & read along as we dissect the letters of Screwtape!
Happy New Year! We spent our last moments of 2019 snuggled in a small tent, nestled high in the frigid north Georgia mountains, where I planned to write this blog. Yet, like so frequently, things did not go according to my plan. The enemy is certainly attacking with a ferocity that’s hard to ignore, which quite honestly I wasn’t expecting. I naively supposed that the turn of the clock would magically cease the adversity that’s poised against me. However as I take a deep breath I am reminded of His peace, and that even in the midst of trial I am more than a conqueror. I am reminded of His endless grace; all of His blessings and the many answered prayers of 2019 that the enemy so wishes to dilute in my mind while magnifying my problems and downfalls. I am reminded of His promise, and my hope is assured in Him. This will be a fruitful year.
On to Screwtape…
To my surprise, Chapter 2 begins, much to Screwtapes “great displeasure”, with Wormwood’s patient becoming a Christian. Already, we are launched into a new dynamic of the war against us. From Chapter 1 we learned satan’s main tactic is to distract us from discovering the truth. Now we begin to see how the enemy operates towards new believers.
After promising there will be hell to pay for Wormwood’s failure, Screwtape comforts his nephew, “There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us.”
I was taken back by this statement and had to meditate for awhile on it’s scriptural validity and theological implications. In John 10:28 Jesus says, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.”
So how then can one be reclaimed by the enemy? To address this question we first must return to the preface of the book, where Lewis states, “the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.”
We know this is true as John 8:44 states the devil “is a liar and the father of it”. Even so, if Screwtape was lying, why waste resources continuing to “treat” a patient that’s soul is safe with God?
I realized the disconnect in my thinking: Lewis is addressing belief, I was focused on behavior. This context of this statement is regarding the patient’s decision to believe in Jesus. The fact is, our behavior was handled at the cross. We died, and our life is now hidden with Christ in God. Jesus paid dearly for us to be reconciled to Him not through our own righteousness but through His. Therefore if our righteousness is found in Christ it cannot be taken away. We now live by faith. The devil can’t take us away from God by force, but he can try to trick us into abandoning Him by our own freewill.
“The Enemy (God) takes the risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants—‘sons’ is the word He uses”, Screwtape exclaims. His pure hatred for humanity–for me–is palpable. Like nails on a chalkboard it reverbs in my ears.
“Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affection and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own”.
Remember, the devil is a liar. Scripture tells us God never leaves us or forsakes us. The best way to tell if something is a lie is to hold it up to scripture. The enemy loves to twist scripture but a part truth is still a lie. Lewis is simply giving us insight to God’s plan through freewill. God desires us to be with Him, but He is not a tyrant. He gave us freewill to choose to follow Him. God never really leaves us on our own, He just lets us take our own path to goals He sets before us. He uses the paths we choose to teach and strengthen us in Him.
Early in the chapter, Screwtape notes, “All the habits of the patient, both mentally and bodily, are still in our favor.” The moment you believed in Jesus you were instantly made a new creation and are now holy and blameless in God’s sight. Yet we are still accustomed to our old nature, old thinking, and old way of life. Sanctification is the process of learning to live out the righteousness given to you as a free gift. It’s learning to live by the Spirit through the renewal of our minds and become more like Christ in every situation and every way. The enemy will try to use this process against us, however God uses it for our good.
Next Screwtape mentions a statement that I have long known to be true, and that is that one of the enemies great allies is the church itself. Screwtape distinguishes between the church that most humans see and the one that exists throughout “all time and space and rooted in eternity” which is the body of Christ.
The enemy is quite present in the earthly church, however all of hell is extremely terrified of the true body of Christ. Jesus said the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). We know the worldly church has gravely mistreated many, Jesus being the prime example when they repeatedly rejected Him and condemned Him to death. Scripture reveals to us that satan was present and working to destroy Jesus and the faith even then (before then, since the garden actually).
Today is no different. Satan, as the current ruler of this world, has attempted to make the church in his image, but as he cannot touch the eternal church he has settled for muddying the earthly representation with twisted doctrine and evil practices.
Screwtape talks about how the patient “has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which in fact is largely pictorial.” This speaks to our preconceived biases of each other, specifically our idea of what a ‘Christian’ is supposed to look like. We somehow have this image of a perfect person, when Christianity is a about the imperfect person that needs Jesus. All throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him choosing the 1 over the 99, yet Pharisees ( religious hierarchies of Israel) could not understand it.
Church isn’t going to to be full of perfect people. Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners.
“When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.””Mark 2:17 NKJV
The enemy uses our own bias against us, attempting to “never let it come to the surface” and “keep everything hazy” in our minds. He hopes that our disappointment in the church will convince us the entire religion is ridiculous because it doesn’t live up to the skewed image we have in our heads.
“All you then have to do is keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’”-Screwtape
If the enemy can keep us from confronting our biases, he can encourage them to fester into comparison, judgement, self-righteousness, and feelings of rejection.
As we grow in the Spirit of Truth, we begin to think more like Jesus and understand the things of God. We become “less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt” as Screwtape says.
I know this to be true in my own life. God has moved me from an anxious, chaotic mess to grounded in His peace, truth and word. Daily He is moving me and renewing my perception to match His and see myself and others in the right spirit.
The enemy desires to divide us, detour us, and confuse us in his ultimate ploy to destroy us. But Jesus already paid the price for us. He came to give us abundant life. Hell won’t prevail against us and nothing can separate us from God’s love. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Let’s keep our focus on Him and defeat the devil with ease in 2020.
Thank You for Your Son Jesus. Thank you that because of Your great kindness I have redemption and peace with You through Him alone. Please create a new heart and a steadfast spirit within me.
In Jesus name,
I love to hear from you! Let me know your any of your thoughts, questions or prayer requests!