The Screwtape Letters: Twenty‐Six Through Thirty

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.

We’re almost done. Next week’s readings will be very short indeed. You might even want to finish them off now — they will take you a few extra minutes at most.

These passages caught my eye this week:

In letter 27, the demon says of humans

…their kind of consciousness forces them to encounter the whole, self‐consistent creative act as a series of successive events. Why that creative act leaves room for their free will is the problem of problems, the secret behind the Enemy’s nonsense about “Love”. How it does so is no problem at all; for the Enemy does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him do it. (Letter 27, pages 264–265)

I like this, but I’m not sure I agree with it completely. The last half I’m definitely on board with. The first half makes me hesitant. God rested on the seventh day, but Lewis makes the demon say that all of human history is the continuation of the act of creation. There’s a beautiful insight hidden in there, but I think the way Lewis worded it falls outside the bounds that Scripture permits. I’d be more comfortable with something along these lines, “Of course they can find an unbroken series of causes leading up to the condition they desired — the Enemy saw their request being made simultaneously with His answer to their prayer manifesting two weeks later even as He began forming the conditions that would lead to its answer a month before they even became aware of their need. There is a sense in which it is all Now to Him.”

Now that I’ve offered some writing advice to Lewis, I’m off to give some investing advice to Warren Buffet. But first, the next missive (letter 28).

Lewis has Screwtape offer a complaint about humans and time.

How valuable time is to us may be gauged by the fact that the Enemy allows us so little of it. The majority of the human race dies in infancy; of the survivors, a good many die in youth. It is obvious that to Him human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death, and death solely as the gate to that other kind of life. We are allowed to work only on a selected minority of the race, for what humans call a “normal life” is the exception. Apparently He wants some—but only a very few—of the human animals with which He is peopling Heaven to have had the experience of resisting us through an earthly life of sixty or seventy years. Well, there is our opportunity. The smaller it is, the better we must use it. (Letter 28, page 268)

Clearly, Lewis believes that infants and children go to heaven. I share this belief. As David said of his dead son in 2 Samuel 2:23, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Elsewhere in the letter we see that this ticket to heaven for the young is so frustrating to demons that they sometimes endeavor to keep us alive, but I think that’s not quite right. After all, John 10:10 informs us that the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. Nonetheless, Lewis is on to something here.

This last excerpt (from letter 29) is my favorite for the week.

This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky. (Letter 29, page 270)

This, this, a thousand times this. Act with courage. It takes courage to stand for Christ at Stanford. It takes courage to forgo a pleasure and risk giving offense because of a deep conviction. It takes courage to tell your friends certain truths.

Something that encourages me (literally encourages me — puts courage into me) is to reflect on this: Revelation 21:8 tells us that the cowardly are the first group thrown into hell. It’s a sobering thought.

And this related point at the end of the letter speaks directly to what I see as one of the chief failings in modern culture:

For remember, the act of cowardice is all that matters; the emotion of fear is, in itself, no sin and, though we enjoy it, does us no good. (Letter 29, page 271)

So many people today confuse feelings with action. For instance, they often seem to believe that feeling bad about something is the same thing as opposing it. “I saw those pictures of starving children and I felt bad. I should tweet about how horrible hunger is.” Do you know who is actually opposed to hunger? The people who send money or spend time to combat hunger.  On the last day, Jesus is not going to say, “As you felt it for the least of these, so you felt it for me.” Allow your feelings to inform your choices, but do not confuse the two.

Be a person of action and hell will hate you.

Enjoy the last little bit of reading!

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