The Screwtape Letters: Notes 1

My British Lit class is finishing up the year with a reading of The Screwtape Letters. So far I’m enjoying it very much as it is not only witty but wise and convicting. Through Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood on how to keep Christians far from Christ, and non-believers from coming to Him, it is made abundantly clear what it does look like to follow Christ.

That said, our assignment for the class is taking a quote from each letter and providing some observations on it. I thought it might be fun to share here. The book is fairly short and easy to read, so if you feel like joining me in reading this then feel free to! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Letter 1“Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.” Here I would have to agree with Screwtape. Rather than listening to solid reasoning and using objective truth to reason, we humans are easily swayed by that which sound fitting for the moment. We would rather have our ears tickled than listen to the truth. Often truth is found after one has argued and weighed the facts, so Screwtape advises Wordwood against arguments.

Letter 2“All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favor.” I agree, to an extent, with Screwtape’s statement here. Although we are in Christ we still have fleshly failings to deal with. As Paul said – “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:22-23). We still suffer a sinful nature on this earth, however we are not to despair as Jesus has delivered us from this “body of death” (Romans 7:24).

Letter 3“Make sure that they [the prayers] are always very ‘spiritual’, that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism.” Screwtape here points out a grievance which all believers, as humans, are prone to. Rather than realizing that one’s outward circumstances affect one’s inner life, we often become so caught up in the supposed vices of the other person we no longer pray for them as we ought. Indeed, we do not pray for people as we should when we do not see them as we should – with eyes of grace and understanding.

Letter 4 “Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.” Screwtape again points out a great weakness of followers of Jesus. Rather than turn outside ourselves and focus on what we know of Him to be true we turn inward and try to produce the feelings of a righteous person. We do not realize that we cannot manufacture righteousness but rather that those feelings of forgiveness and love are byproducts of righteousness. We cannot be righteous unless we turn our gaze toward Him.

Letter 5“And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.” When faced with a situation that daily reminds one of their own mortality it is almost inevitable that one beings to ask questions of a deeper nature. Death ends thoughts of worldliness and asks questions of other worldliness. It is in this state that the Devil’s plans are threatened because only when man sees fully his weak state can he begin to understand who God is. Although we do not live in the midst of war, we do live in the midst of a pandemic (a war of another sort, I suppose) and I pray that people will be brought to Christ in this time.

Letter 6 “It is only in so far as they reach the Will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his Will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.) All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from Our Father’s house: indeed they make him more amusing when he gets there.” Screwtape again points out a terrible weakness of humans. In this passage I especially felt convicted. It is easy to be “virtuous” when “virtue” is directed at an abstract cause or idea, however, when virtue requires one to hold their tongue in a petty argument about who gets to shower first in one’s family it is much more difficult to practice. Rather than only cultivating good feelings and ideals, one must also cultivate godly habits that help produce a virtuous heart.

Letter 7 “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 wordly end he is pursuing.” Here Screwtape points out that as long as wordly means are the motivating force in our lives faith is not important – whether we claim to have it or not. When faith is the means and not the motivating force in our lives that colors all we do and is held in esteem above all else, it no longer is true faith. We must place our faith above all else in the world.

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