Why You Should Read The Screwtape Letters
March 15, 2022 | Levi Fortner
In college, I read through C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters with a dear friend. My first interaction with this marvelous work opened my eyes to the schemes of the devil and the purposes of God in an imaginative way that fiction so often fosters. Since those days of coffee and discussion over each chapter, I have regularly come back to these pages in order to strengthen the eyes of my heart to the unseen warfare raging around us.
What Is The Book About?
The Screwtape Letters is a fictional series of letters written by Uncle Screwtape, a senior demon, to his nephew, Wormwood, who is new to the labor of deceiving human beings. Screwtape writes to Wormwood to give advice on how to tempt a certain Patient (an unnamed man) away from the Enemy (Christ) and to The Father Below (Satan). From relationships to education, war to gluttony, these demons relentlessly work to deceive the Patient in every experience and challenge of life. The following excerpts reveal the extent of deception to which demons will go in order to ruin what otherwise may be expressions of godliness.
On Being Judgmental and Offensive (From Chapter 3)
“In civilized life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: “I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper.” Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.”
On Humility (From Chapter 14)
“You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.”
Why You Should Read The Screwtape Letters
These fictional letters stir the imagination to see our everyday lives as a battle ground. Lewis’ detailed insights into how the enemy, Satan, can get a foothold in our lives strengthen our spiritual vision, allowing us to avoid Satan’s schemes and to worship God by obedience to Him and enjoying His good gifts.
Our guidebook, God’s Word, expresses the Christian life as warfare: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). As John Piper explains,
“The wartime lifestyle puts us on red alert not to be naïve that God’s good creation is not only good. Because of our sin and because of Satan, anything good can destroy us.
A wartime footing is essential lest the enemy of our souls get the upper hand.”
To be Christians means that our lives belong to Christ, and we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. God gives His children spiritual eyes to understand that we wrestle against unseen, evil powers in this present darkness (Eph 6:12). Christ gives us the armor and weapons to fight and stand firm against Satan (Eph 6:13). God’s Word is sufficient for living all of live to His glory. Still, God gives us good, well-written fiction books to stir our affections for Christ and increase our spiritual vision to see what He is doing in the world. The Screwtape Letters is such a book.
Your Affectionate Brother,