The first thing I read today was an email that ended up being one of those curveballs I was telling you about here. You know those ones that knock you off balance? I didn’t think I could master to write a word but, lo and behold! I had help from the most unexpected quarters.
About three weeks ago I got a copy of The Screwtape Letters a Christian apologetic novel by C. S. Lewis. I can’t quite remember how I first came across one of the letters but I was shocked that someone would take the trouble to impersonate the devil and try and live out his daily life. Even in writing. What shocked me more however, was to learn about the author, a man I often quote. And who doesn’t love The Chronicles of Narnia? Lewis brought to the world what is considered to be a classic of children’s literature. To imagine the two books were written by the same person? That’s one active imagination!
Back to The Screwtape Letters. The letters are theology in reverse and Lewis starts off in the preface, by warning readers to remember that the devil is a liar. Otherwise one might confuse the Enemy for Our father below! Screwtape is a senior devil who is mentoring his nephew, an inexperienced devil named Wormwood, on how best to tempt a man, only referred to as “the Patient”, into sin and eventually, into hell. The book is a collection of 31 letters from Screwtape in which he advises, encourages, admonishes and even rebukes Wormwood as he follows the Patient around on earth.
You may want to read the book for yourself and this is not a review, but when I started reading it, I couldn’t go beyond the first few letters. For some reason, I was conflicted – have I heard enough from the One above that I now want to hear what the One below has to say? Yet the book remained open on my laptop. Today though, maybe because that early morning email left me feeling screwed up, I found myself turning to the book. I am not sure what I was looking for but I needed a distraction. And there, in letter no. 6, I found positivity all wrapped up in such irony, that it is easy to miss it.
In his characteristic address, Screwtape begins the letter with My Dear Wormwood,
I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
Friends, have you ever had a wake-up call after the wake-up call? I knew right there and then that I was playing into the tricks of Wormwood or whichever devil is assigned to me. There is no chance that I will called up for military service, but the uncertainty of my situation had me brooding most of the day; wondering how it will all play out, what my next course of action will be; while forgetting it isn’t my cross to bear alone. Screwtape continued to preach:
Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done”…It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them as his crosses…
It was a eureka moment. Sometimes you think you know things deeply, only to realize you don’t know a damn thing. And you never can tell where your next lesson will come from. Even Screwtape can be the source of positivity. Unknowingly of course seeing he delights in our misery. There’s a lightness in my spirit and I will endeavor to complete reading The Screwtape Letters.