The Screwtape Letters: Thirteen Through Nineteen

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2018. The schedule is online.

Lewis is on such a roll! This week we’re looking at letters thirteen through nineteen, and insights abound. I fear that if I don’t constrain myself I’ll just cut and paste all of the text.

I’ll limit myself to two excerpts from Lewis along with some brief commentary on them.

The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel. (Letter 13, page 223)

Wow. I had forgotten Lewis said this. This is so good! The author to which Screwtape is alluding is Joseph Butler and you can see the source of the quote at Lewisiana.

Lewis is driving at this: the longer you mean to do something the less likely you are to do it. So get off your good intentions and do something you know you are supposed to do. Obedience unlocks insight. The more you do the more you will understand and then the more opportunities for obedience you will have. It’s a virtuous cycle.

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.…  The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. (Letter 14, page 225)

This reminds me of Romans 12:3, where Paul teaches us: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

That verse alone would change Stanford if it was taken seriously. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Instead, Paul says, think of yourself with sober judgment. In other words, self‐awareness and honesty lay the foundation for humility. Don’t overestimate your competence but also don’t downplay it. And when you evaluate yourself soberly, do it “in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” I take that to mean that instead of subjectively comparing ourselves to others, we should measure ourselves against the objective standards of God’s Word and ultimately against the person of Jesus. That’s a whole sermon, though, and that’s not the point of these updates. I just want to remind you that Lewis has some amazing insights and encourage you to finish the summer readings strong!

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