the screwtape letters.

Well, I’ve lived to tell the story of how I made it through the chaos that is finals week, but it’s actually a really boring narrative and it ends with me finally coming home for summer and beginning preparations to go to NEW YORK CITY!  I can hardly wait to arrive and meet my team.  And for those of you who have been so gracious to contribute to my Summer Project, I am truly grateful to you.  My greatest concern in committing to go on this project was the fact that I would have to raise financial support, and I can honestly say that God has delivered such a great blessing through the generosity of people like you.  Thank you so much!  If you are still interested in giving to my project, you can click here; if you would like to support my project through prayers (or have any questions/concerns about partnering financially), I would love to hear from you!  Send me an e-mail at jcarmich@live.unc.edu.

Screwtape Letters web

But this post isn’t about finals week or Summer Project — in the first few days of being home, I have powered through C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, which has actually been sitting on my bookshelf for a solid 6 or 7 months now.  For those of you who know me pretty well, you know that it often takes nothing less than an act of God to get me to read a book so quickly if it hasn’t been assigned with a deadline.  I’m going to go through the premise in just a minute, but from the moment I began reading this book, I was enthralled in what it had to teach me about who God is, and what that means for my life.  As I was reading through this incredibly well-crafted narrative (I would expect nothing less from Lewis), all I could think about was that this material HAD to go on my blog — but often times, I want my posts to include insight and reflection instead of simply a direct transcript of what you could find somewhere else.  I thought about it for a long time, and then I was reminded of the fact that this book sat on a shelf for months and months untouched, and some of you may just not have the time or motivation to sit down and read this whole book, even though I’m sure that it contains insight for everyone.

Because I want to use my blog as a platform to talk about Christ and reflect on the way that He should be in control of everything in our lives, I think talking about this book is essential as it pertains to my responsibility to the way I want to use this site.  So, this post is a compilation of notes/points from a sermon I listened to from Tim Keller called The Strategies of Darkness, and woven throughout are direct quotes from what stood out to me in The Screwtape Letters.  I’m hoping that by using these two resources to play off each other, we can ultimately see God more clearly.  I did this a few months back with Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell, and I found it really helpful.  Here’s to hoping the second time around goes just as well!

The Screwtape Letters is formatted as a series of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, who is a “junior tempter.”  The conversation revolves around Wormwood’s responsibility to get into the mind of a man, referred to as “the patient,” and take away his salvation by securing his damnation to hell.  The pages to follow are packed with circumstances the devil can (and does) use to get into the mind of the patient, and will use to get into your mind as well. (Note: keep in mind that all of the quotes that come out of this book are from the perspective of a demon; therefore, ‘the Enemy’ refers to God, ‘Our Father’ refers to Satan, etc.)

“Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Keller points out that one of the main traits of Christianity is that we see the world as a battleground — a battleground that doesn’t just host natural good and evil, but supernatural good and evil; every square inch of this world is claimed or counter-claimed by God or Satan, so we’re either living for God or we’re living for Satan, there’s no in-between.  Just as it’s reflected in Lewis’ book, Satan loves the person who believes that a state of neutrality is a safe place, because he knows (even if you don’t) that it implies submission to his kingdom.  Often times, when something has power over you, the largest part of its power is your denial that it has any power to begin with… this is how the devil does some of his greatest work.

“Talk to [the patient] about ‘moderation in all things’. If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point’, you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.”

Even though I would like to believe it to be untrue, the crux of the matter is that the devil is mighty.  When Satan fell from Heaven, Keller says that he didn’t go alone.  He came out with entire divisions, people with an angelical nature, who followed him into his kingdom.

Because our life on this earth takes place on this “battleground,” Keller says that we have to understand that our problems are not merely human– they don’t have “manageable roots,” because they are all apart of this greater battle taking place between supernatural good and evil.  The bottom line: We can’t manage where our problems are coming from; we can only manage who we’re going to let control them.  Keller says that “demons are beings of an angelic and ancient order — they are giants loose on the earth and no son of Adam or daughter of Eve could handle these persons on their own.”

“And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong—certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy says ‘Mine’ of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say ‘Mine’ of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.”

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

The sin of Satan was his desire to be first.  When he fell from Heaven, Satan claimed that he would one day ascend and he, rather than God, would be called most high.  In the same way, when we decide to live our lives for ourselves instead of for God, Keller points out that we are saying “I will ascend” — the difference is that we’re not setting up our own kingdom (keep in mind that every inch of the earth is claimed or counter-claimed by God or Satan), but rather giving in to the influence of Satan’s kingdom.  The sad reality is that when we choose to live for ourselves, we are settling for a plan so much less fulfilling than what God has in store for us.

“Now it may surprise you to learn that in [the Enemy’s] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.  The reason is this.  To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.  But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing… We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons… Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”

“For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.”

The nature of the demonic is to set up lesser gods (idols, essentially) in which we decide to devote more worship to than God himself; Satan wants us to worship money, sex, and other worldly pleasures, because they distract us from God and have the potential to become the functional masters of our hearts.  And don’t be deceived — the devil has been around for a very long time, trying to perfect the methods he uses to capture your soul.  Keller points out that the word “devil” means deceiver, which makes complete sense because the thing that Jesus most often says about the devil is that he is a liar.  He often deceives us in one of two ways: by making us think he has more power than he does, or making us believe he has less power than he does — often times, it’s the latter.  Keller says that, just as he did with Adam and Eve, the devil tries to play on our capacity for self-pity by inserting ideas in our hearts that are rooted purely in deception.  The real power of Satan is in the lie that we believe to be truth.

“Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.”

“Whatever he says, let his inner resolution be not to bear whatever comes to him, but to bear it ‘for a reasonable period’ – and let the reasonable period be shorter than the trial is likely to last… in attacks on patience, chastity, and fortitude, the fun is to make the man yield just when (had he but known it) relief was almost in sight.”

But no matter how discouraging all of this may seem, the cool thing about it all is that every day, we are given the choice to serve a God who never stops fighting for our hearts.  My biggest fear in reading this book was that it would cause me to have this great fear of the devil, but instead it just showed me how truly loving God is — He is constantly fighting the counter-offensive that is working so tirelessly to damn us to hell, and as long as we accept Him as our Savior, He will always win.  It is part of our nature to want to improve, to love more and to be more and to have more… We want to be more pure, more like Christ, more loving of our neighbor, more respectful, a better sibling/spouse/friend, and it all starts with knowing what we’re fighting.  If we don’t know our enemy, then our ignorance automatically becomes submission to Satan’s kingdom.  Despite that Satan is mighty and a tireless fighter, the reality is that he is also vulnerable.  Keller says that the devil can’t make us do anything other than what he makes us believe we have to do.  The Lord is faithful, and He will never let us be tempted beyond what we are able — we just have to choose Him.

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

There is so much from this book that I wasn’t able to address, but I still found to be very eye-opening.  If you’d like to talk more about this subject, feel free to contact me.

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