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Screwtape Letters by C.S. Letters

Do you love reading books but need help to dive a little deeper? Do you enjoy reading but find yourself overwhelmed on where to start? Outside of Scripture, one of the greatest ways to grow together is to read great books together. As believers, we not only want to read good books, but we want to invest our time in the best books. 

This guide has been created to walk you through Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The goal of this guide is to help us dive deeper into the content of this classic so that we can apply it to our hearts and homes. Feel free to use the reading guide personally, with your life group or discipleship group, or even with family and friends.

Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters, and each week for 10 weeks over the summer, we will post a summary/guide, written by Ben Telfair, for three of the letters.    

To access the reading guide, scroll down and click the orange plus sign (+) next to the letters you wish to read.

Introduction

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” (ix)

“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.” (4)

The Strategy of The Screwtape Letters

First published in 1942, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a fictionalized collection of thirty-one letters written from a senior tempter, Screwtape, to a junior tempter, Wormwood, exploring the nature and strategy of temptation in our everyday lives. The wisdom of Screwtape Letters is how Lewis explores the dangers of temptation, spiritual warfare, and the devil using satire. For example, humans are “patients” who are to be tempted, God is the “Enemy” who is to be despised, and the Devil is “Our Father Below” who is to be obeyed.

The Plan for this Discipleship Guide

This discipleship guide is intended to serve as a supplement to the Screwtape Letters. The plan is to provide a one-page resource for each of the thirty-one letters. If you are using this resource personally, you can read one a day over the course of the month. If you are using this resource in group, you can read and discuss a letter a week, which would take you through the course of the academic year, or you can read and review three a week, which would take you through a semester. As you use this discipleship guide, here is an overview of the structure to help you get the most out of it:

  • Subject of each letter. The Screwtape Letters are numbered, but not categorized. At the top of the handout each letter is provided with a subject to help navigate the given topic.
  • Corresponding Proverb. If the Screwtape Letters are a collection of thirty-one letters on the diabolical perspective to be avoided, then Proverbs is a collection of thirty-one chapters on the divine perspective to be cultivated. For each letter a corresponding Proverb has been selected to anchor our discipleship in the wisdom of God.
  • Summary sentence. Every handout is a provided with a summary sentence to help capture the main argument of each letter for review and application.
  • Summary reading. In the main section of each handout, the goal is not to translate C.S. Lewis but to allow you the satirical tone and strategic argument for yourselves.
  • Reflection Finally, at the bottom of every handout is a key quote to aid discussion and three questions to be used for discussion and application.
Letter 1

LETTER 1:  “THE DANGER OF DISTRACTION”

7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Distraction, not argument, is the main tactic and tool of the Devil today

My dear Wormwood,

It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier… Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about…

Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s!) you don’t realize how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary… You begin to see the point? Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things… Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy’s own ground.” (2)

 

  1. Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. How does eternity help us to live in the midst of the ordinary?
  2. How is ordinariness a good gift from the Lord? How is it used to distract you from the Lord?
  3. Where are you most tempted to be distracted from discipleship in this season of your life?
Letter 2

LETTER 2: “CHURCH”

1 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3 yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4 if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:1-5 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The church is our great ally in discipleship, but the Devil tries to use it as our greatest obstacle

My dear Wormwood,

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans… When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew… Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial…

 Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor… In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

 

REFLECTION

“Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.” (7)

 

  1. How has the enemy used the church as a place of distraction and disappointment in your life?
  2. Where are you most tempted to be bothered by the church rather than love the church today?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 12:14-20. How should the biblical image of the body of Christ shape and reshape our “largely pictorial” one of the church today?
Letter 3

LETTER 3: “FAMILY”

1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, 2 for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Proverbs 3:1-2 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Our families remind us that the ordinary, not the extraordinary, is the strategy of the enemy

My dear Wormwood,

I am very pleased by what you tell me about this man’s relations with his mother. But you must press your advantage… Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office…

When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy—if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Remember the elder brother in the Enemy’s story?” (14)

  1. Why can families be both sources of encouragement and discouragement in discipleship?
  2. Read Luke 15:25-32. Where are you tempted to view yourself as the “elder brother” who has done nothing wrong and looks down rather than loves your friends and family?
  3. Why is self-examination difficult? In what areas of your life does the gospel need to lead you in self-examination this week so that you can love your friends and family well?

 

Letter 4

LETTER 4: “PRAYER”

23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.  Proverbs 4:23 (ESV)

SUMMARY

When the enemy cannot keep us from prayer, he attempts to confuse us in prayer

My dear Wormwood,

[I]t is high time for me to write to you fully on the painful subject of prayer… The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether.

If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills… Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.

I have known cases where what the patient called his ‘God’ was actually located—up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it—to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“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.” (16)

  1. How does this letter help you better understand the difficulties of your own prayer life?
  2. In what ways have you struggled with the “subtler misdirection” of the enemy in your prayer life?
  3. After reading this letter, how does Ephesians 6:10-20 strengthen your prayer life?

 

 

Letter 5

LETTER 5: “WAR”

 21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths.  Proverbs 5:21 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The realities of war disrupt our illusions of worldliness

My dear Wormwood,

You say you are ‘delirious with joy’ because the European humans have started another of their wars… Give me without fail in your next letter a full account of the patient’s reactions to the war, so that we can consider whether you are likely to do more good by making him an extreme patriot or an ardent pacifist. There are all sorts of possibilities. In the meantime, I must warn you not to hope too much from a war…

Let us therefore think rather how to use, than how to enjoy, this European war. For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favor. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self… 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.             

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“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.” (24)

  1. Why does Screwtape say, “I must warn you not to hope too much from a war?”
  2. How has war, national tragedy, and natural disaster “rendered useless” you own worldliness?
  3. How does Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 provide you with the gospel perspective you are not “going to live forever”? Why is that good, but neglected, news for us today?
Letter 6

LETTER 6: “FEAR”

20 My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. 21 Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. 22 When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. Proverbs 6:20-22 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The goal of the enemy is to keep us in fear in order to keep us away from God.

My dear Wormwood,

I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them…

It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of… One can therefore formulate the general rule; in all activities of mind which favor our cause, encourage the patient to be unself-conscious and to concentrate on the object, but in all activities favorable to the Enemy bend his mind back on itself… so fix his attention inward that he no longer looks beyond himself to see our Enemy or his own neighbors.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“[The Enemy] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.” (25)

 

  1. How should fear move us toward God? Why does fear often keep us away from God?
  2. What fears are keeping you away from the Lord in this season of your life? Why?
  3. Meditate on Psalm 27. Like the psalmist, how does the goodness of God overcome our fears?
Letter 7

LETTER 7: “EXTREMES”

1 My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; 2 keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; Proverbs 7:1-2 (ESV)

SUMMARY

We must remember that Satan is not a comical figure but a biblical threat.

My dear Wormwood,

I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command… We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics… The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged… We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique. The Church herself is, of course, heavily defended and we have never yet quite succeeded in giving her all the characteristics of a faction; but subordinate factions within her have often produced admirable results, from the parties of Paul and of Apollos at Corinth down to the High and Low parties in the Church of England.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.” (32)

 

  1. Meditate on 1 Peter 5:8-10. Why is it dangerous to view Satan as a comical figure rather than a biblical threat? Where do you need to be “watchful” as a disciple (1 Pet. 5:8)?
  2. Why is Screwtape encouraging, “All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy”?
  3. What kind of divisions is the enemy trying to produce in the Church today (1 Cor. 1:10-17)?
Letter 8

LETTER 8: “LAW OF UNDULATION” 

11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. Proverbs 8:11 (ESV)

SUMMARY

God is not punishing us in the valley, but using it to make us more like Him

My dear Wormwood,

Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks… The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite… It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best… 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.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal… As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.” (37)

 

  1. In your own words, how would you describe the “law of undulation”?
  2. How does the “law of undulation” help make sense of the tension between time and eternity?
  3. How has God used “trough periods” more than “peak periods” to make you more Christlike?
Letter 9

LETTER 9: “SPIRITUAL DRYNESS”

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Spiritual dryness tempts us to depend on pleasures as idols rather than enjoy them as gifts from God

My dear Wormwood,

I hope my last letter has convinced you that the trough of dullness or ‘dryness’ through which your patient is going at present will not, of itself, give you his soul, but needs to be properly exploited…         

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.…

As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Do not let him suspect the law of undulation. Let him assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition. Having once got this misconception well fixed in his head, you may then proceed in various ways…

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

 

REFLECTION

“As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Do not let him suspect the law of undulation.” (45)

 

  1. In what ways does the enemy tempt you through “the trough of dullness” in your own life?
  2. Why is it important to remember that pleasures are ultimately a gift from God to enjoy and not an invention of the enemy? Where do you need to remember this in your own life?
  3. How have you used pleasures to cope with the difficulties of life rather than to enjoy life?
Letter 10

LETTER 10: “FRIENDSHIPS”

23 Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. 24 What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.  Proverbs 10:23-24 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Friendship can either be the greatest blessing or the great hindrance to discipleship.

 

My dear Wormwood,

I was delighted to hear from Triptweeze that your patient has made some very desirable new acquaintances and that you seem to have used this event in a really promising manner. I gather that the middle-aged married couple who called at his office are just the sort of people we want him to know—rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly skeptical about everything in the world…

No doubt he must very soon realize that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based. I don’t think that matters much provided that you can persuade him to postpone any open acknowledgement of the fact, and this, with the aid of shame, pride, modesty and vanity, will be easy to do. As long as the postponement lasts he will be in a false position. He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and skeptical attitudes which are not really his. But if you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be. This is elementary. The real question is how to prepare for the Enemy’s counterattack.

… delay as long as possible the moment at which he realizes this new pleasure as a temptation. Since the Enemy’s servants have been preaching about ‘the World’ as one of the great standard temptations for two thousand years, this might seem difficult to do. But fortunately they have said very little about it for the last few decades.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

 

REFLECTION

 

“All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.” (50)

 

  1. How does Screwtape attempt to use “friendships” in our lives?
  2. In what ways, both great and subtle, have friendships pulled you away from the Lord?
  3. Meditate on Proverbs 17:17. Where is God calling you to grow as a better friend to others?
Letter 11

LETTER 11: “LAUGHTER”

20 Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord, but those of blameless ways are his delight.  Proverbs 11:20 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Laughter is a good gift from God, which the Devil works hard to distort.

My dear Wormwood,

I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday… Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged…

Fun is closely related to Joy—a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.

The Joke Proper, which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field… The real use of Jokes or Humor is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English who take their ‘sense of humor’ so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humor is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life.

But flippancy is the best of all… Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armor-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it,

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

 

REFLECTION

“I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy.” (53)

 

  1. In your own words, how would you describe the four “causes of human laughter”?
  2. How are joy and fun gifts from God and how can you cultivate them more in your heart and home?
  3. Although subtle, why is “flippancy” so dangerous in our love toward God and others?
Letter 12

LETTER 12: “THE SAFEST ROAD TO HELL”

28 In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death. Proverbs 12:28 (ESV)

 

SUMMARY

The Devil doesn’t care how we get to hell as long as we get there.

My dear Wormwood,

Obviously you are making excellent progress. My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position. For you and I, who see that position as it really is, must never forget how totally different it ought to appear to him. We know that we have introduced a change of direction in his course which is already carrying him out of his orbit around the Enemy; but he must be made to imagine that all the choices which have effected this change of course are trivial and revocable. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space…

For this reason I am almost glad to hear that he is still a churchgoer and a communicant… As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one… And while he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

 

REFLECTION

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one.” (61)

 

  1. How does “path of wisdom” in Proverbs 12:28 contrast with Screwtape’s “road to Hell”?
  2. Why would Screwtape rather us focus on Christian self-improvement than biblical repentance?
  3. Over time, how do “small sins” pull us “out of orbit” and away from the Lord?
Letter 13

LETTER 13: “PAINS AND PLEASURE”

19 A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.  20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.  Proverbs 13:19-20 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Real pleasure is a gift from God that leads us back toward God.

My dear Wormwood,

… And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there—a walk through country he really likes, and taken alone. In other words you allowed him two real positive Pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this? The characteristic of Pains and Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore, as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality… How can you have failed to see that a real pleasure was the last thing you ought to have let him meet? Didn’t you foresee that it would just kill by contrast all the trumpery which you have been so laboriously teaching him to value? And that the sort of pleasure which the book and the walk gave him was the most dangerous of all? That it would peel off from his sensibility the kind of crust you have been forming on it, and make him feel that he was coming home, recovering himself? As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from himself, and had made some progress in doing so. Now, all that is undone.

Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamor of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

 

REFLECTION

“When they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”  (65)

 

  1. Why is Screwtape so concerned about “real positive pleasures” in our lives (1 Timothy 4:4)?
  2. What’s the difference between diabolical detachment and divine detachment?
  3. What opportunities do you have to enjoy God by enjoying the gifts of God in your life this week?
Letter 14

LETTER 14:  “HUMILITY”

27 The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. Proverbs 14:27 (ESV)

SUMMARY

To cultivate Christlikeness is to cultivate humility.

My dear Wormwood,

Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear…

Our Enemy wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors… 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…

To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. 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. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Our Enemy wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors.” (70)

 

  1. Why is cultivating humility so difficult, yet so necessary, as disciples of Christ?
  2. Why does Screwtape want us to think of humility “as a certain kind of opinion” instead of a virtue?
  3. Meditate on Philippians 2:1-11. In what ways would humility transform your heart and home?
Letter 15

LETTER 15: “TIME AND ETERNITY”

22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22 (ESV)

SUMMARY

As disciples, we need to learn to live wisely in time and for eternity.

My dear Wormwood,

The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity…

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future… the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity… nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.

To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too—just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present… He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do… We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” (76)

 

  1. To keep us from meditating on Eternity, why does Screwtape want us to think of the Future?
  2. How are you tempted to allow “the altar of the future” to distract you from the Present and Eternity?
  3. Meditate on James 4:13-17. How does this letter help you live wisely in time yet for eternity?
Letter 16

LETTER 16: “CHURCH SHOPPING”

18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18 (ESV)

SUMMARY

If the Devil cannot keep us from church, he wants us to be in search for the perfect church.

My dear Wormwood,

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (You see how groveling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!) This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper. So pray bestir yourself and send this fool the round of the neighboring churches as soon as possible…

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“The search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.” (81-82)

 

  1. If Screwtape cannot keep us from church, why is church shopping the next best thing?
  2. How does church shopping make us “a critic” of the church instead of a disciple of Christ?
  3. What things in particular are you tempted to look for in a church that “suits your taste”?
Letter 17

LETTER 17: “GLUTTONY OF DELICACY”

24 The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth. Proverbs 17:24 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Gluttony of delicacy is subtler but just as dangerous as gluttony of excess

My dear Wormwood,

The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient’s mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished—one day, I hope, will be—to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile ‘Oh please, please … all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.

The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is in what may be called the ‘All-I-want’ state of mind…

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“She never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.” (88)

 

  1. According to Screwtape, what’s the difference between gluttony of Delicacy and gluttony of Excess?
  2. In what ways does the gluttony of Delicacy subtlety spoil our souls and our relationships?
  3. Are you more tempted toward gluttony of Delicacy or gluttony of Excess? And, why?
Letter 18

LETTER 18: “LOVE AND SEX”

1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. 2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Proverbs 18:1-2 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Like all things, the Devil seeks to take the truth about sex outside the context of God’s Love

My dear Wormwood,

The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy. Ever since our Father’s first great victory, we have rendered the former very difficult to them. The latter, for the last few centuries, we have been closing up as a way of escape…

Now the Enemy’s philosophy is nothing more nor less than one continued attempt to evade this very obvious truth. He aims at a contradiction. Things are to be many, yet somehow also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility He calls love, and this same monotonous panacea can be detected under all He does and even all He is—or claims to be. Thus He is not content, even Himself, to be a sheer arithmetical unity; He claims to be three as well as one, in order that this nonsense about Love may find a foothold in His own nature…

The Enemy described a married couple as ‘one flesh’. He did not say ‘a happily married couple’ or ‘a couple who married because they were in love’, but you can make the humans ignore that… The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured. From the true statement that this transcendental relation was intended to produce, and, if obediently entered into, too often will produce, affection and the family, humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call ‘being in love’ is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility He calls love.” (94)

 

  1. Why is Screwtape so irritated at “this nonsense about Love” when he writes to Wormwood?
  2. When it comes to marriage, why is it more important to focus on the biblical truth of “becoming one flesh” than the constant concern of “being in love”? How can this help our marriages to flourish?
  3. Meditate on Ephesians 5:22-33. How does marriage reflect the Gospel Story of God’s Love?
Letter 19

LETTER 19:  “GOD’S LOVE”

8 Whoever gets sense loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will discover good. Proverbs 19:8 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The Devil is disgusted by God’s Love and cannot understand it

My dear Wormwood,

I have been thinking very hard about the question in your last letter… The truth is I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy really loves the humans. That, of course, is an impossibility. He is one being, they are distinct from Him. Their good cannot be His. All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else—He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to find out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question. I do not see that it can do any harm to tell you that this very problem was a chief cause of Our Father’s quarrel with the Enemy… And there lies the great task. We know that He cannot really love: nobody can: it doesn’t make sense. If we could only find out what He is really up to! Hypothesis after hypothesis has been tried, and still we can’t find out.

You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not. But really, Wormwood, that is the sort of question one expects them to ask! Leave them to discuss whether ‘Love’, or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Can’t you see there’s no answer? Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at a particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question.” (100)

 

  1. Why is that Screwtape cannot understand God’s love toward His creation?
  2. As a disciple, what keeps you from believing God the Father truly loves you?
  3. Meditate on Psalm 103:11-14. Like the psalmist, what about God’s love move you to treasure Him?
Letter 20

LETTER 20:  “SEXUAL TEMPTATION”

7 The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!  Proverbs 20:7 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The diabolical strategy of sexual temptation is to deceive and dehumanize us

My dear Wormwood,

I note with great displeasure that the Enemy has, for the time being, put a forcible end to your direct attacks on the patient’s chastity… I would like to give you some hint about the type of woman—I mean the physical type—which he should be encouraged to fall in love with if ‘falling in love’ is the best we can manage.

In a rough and ready way, of course, this question is decided for us by spirits far deeper down in the Lowerarchy than you and I. It is the business of these great masters to produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called sexual ‘taste’. This they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type. The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely…

We have engineered a great increase in the license which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach. It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender and more boyish than nature allows a full-grown woman to be. Yet at the same time, the modern world is taught to believe that it is being ‘frank’ and ‘healthy’ and getting back to nature. As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist—making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast!

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.” (106)

 

  1. How has sexual temptation changed since Screwtape Letters was published in 1942?
  2. How has sexual temptation not changed at all since Screwtape Letters was published in 1942?
  3. Take a moment to read and reflect on Proverbs 7. How does sexual sin dehumanize us?
Letter 21

LETTER 21: “PEEVISHNESS”

2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. Proverbs 21:2 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Time is not a commodity we own, but a gift we steward

My dear Wormwood,

Yes. A period of sexual temptation is an excellent time for working in a subordinate attack on the patient’s peevishness. It may even be the main attack, as long as he thinks it the subordinate one. But here, as in everything else, the way must be prepared for your moral assault by darkening his intellect.

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury… Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him… They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours… what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

We produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun—the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’ and ‘my country’, to ‘my God’. They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership…

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.

Your affectionate uncle

screwtape

REFLECTION

“The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.” (112)

 

  1. How will it harm our souls and our relationships if we believe the lie that “my time is my own”?
  2. As you reflect on a typical week, where are you most tempted to believe and embrace this lie?
  3. Meditate on Psalm 90:12. How does remembering that time is a gift set us free from peevishness?
Letter 22

LETTER 22:  “FALLING IN LOVE”

11 He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend. Proverbs 22:11 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The Devil hates Christians, especially those who are pure in heart because they are so unlike him

My dear Wormwood,

So! Your man is in love… I have looked up this girl’s dossier and am horrified at what I find. Not only a Christian but such a Christian—a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit. She stinks and scalds through the very pages of the dossier. It drives me mad, the way the world has worsened. We’d have had her to the arena in the old days. That’s what her sort is made for. Not that she’d do much good there, either. A two-faced little cheat (I know the sort) who looks as if she’d faint at the sight of blood and then dies with a smile. A cheat every way. Looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and yet has a satirical wit. The sort of creature who’d find ME funny! Filthy insipid little prude—and yet ready to fall into this booby’s arms like any other breeding animal. Why doesn’t the Enemy blast her for it, if He’s so moonstruck by virginity—instead of looking on there, grinning?

Then, of course, he gets to know this woman’s family and whole circle. Could you not see that the very house she lives in is one that he ought never to have entered? The whole place reeks of that deadly odor. The very gardener, though he has only been there five years, is beginning to acquire it. Even guests, after a weekend visit, carry some of the smell away with them. The dog and the cat are tainted with it. And a house full of the impenetrable mystery. We are certain (it is a matter of first principles) that each member of the family must in some way be making capital out of the others—but we can’t find out how. They guard as jealously as the Enemy Himself the secret of what really lies behind this pretense of disinterested love. The whole house and garden is one vast obscenity.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.” (118)

 

  1. What is it about this woman that Screwtape hates so much?
  2. Why is Screwtape so concerned to have this man experience the warmth of this woman’s family?
  3. Meditate on 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. How should the aroma of Christ shape our hearts and homes?
Letter 23

LETTER 23: “JESUS”

23 Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23 (ESV)

SUMMARY

If the Devil cannot remove spirituality from our life, he will seek to corrupt it in our life

My dear Wormwood,

Through this girl and her disgusting family the patient is now getting to know more Christians every day, and very intelligent Christians too. For a long time it will be quite impossible to remove spirituality from his life. Very well then; we must corrupt it… The World and the Flesh have failed us; a third Power remains. And success of this third kind is the most glorious of all. A spoiled saint, a Pharisee, an inquisitor, or a magician, makes better sport in Hell than a mere common tyrant…

Looking round your patient’s new friends I find that the best point of attack would be the borderline between theology and politics… You will find that a good many Christian-political writers think that Christianity began going wrong, and departing from the doctrine of its Founder, at a very early stage. Now this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a ‘historical Jesus’ to be found by clearing away later ‘accretions and perversions’ and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition…

The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical… In the second place, all such constructions place the importance of their historical Jesus in some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated. We thus distract men’s minds from who He is, and what He did… Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“We do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; (126)

 

  1. Meditate on 1 John 2:15-17. How does this passage shine light on this particular letter?
  2. Like the patient, how have you experienced the subtle compromises and corruptions of your faith?
  3. Which of Screwtape’s three goals for the “historical Jesus” have you been most tempted by?
Letter 24

LETTER 24:  “SPIRITUAL PRIDE”

13 My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. 14 Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:13-14 (ESV)

SUMMARY

If the Devil cannot keep us from growing as disciples, he wants to grow in us Spiritual Pride

My dear Wormwood,

Can you get him to imitate this defect in his mistress and to exaggerate it until what was venial in her becomes in him the strongest and most beautiful of the vices—Spiritual Pride?…

Here is your chance. While the Enemy… is drawing the young barbarian up to levels he could never otherwise have reached, you must make him feel that he is finding his own level—that these people are ‘his sort’ and that, coming among them, he has come home. When he turns from them to other society he will find it dull; partly because almost any society within his reach is, in fact, much less entertaining, but still more because he will miss the enchantment of the young woman. You must teach him to mistake this contrast between the circle that delights and the circle that bores him for the contrast between Christians and unbelievers. He must be made to feel (he’d better not put it into words) ‘how different we Christians are’; and by ‘we Christians’ he must really, but unknowingly, mean ‘my set’; and by ‘my set’ he must mean not ‘The people who, in their charity and humility, have accepted me’, but ‘The people with whom I associate by right’.

Success here depends on confusing him. If you try to make him explicitly and professedly proud of being a Christian, you will probably fail; the Enemy’s warnings are too well known. If, on the other hand, you let the idea of ‘we Christians’ drop out altogether and merely make him complacent about ‘his set’, you will produce not true spiritual pride but mere social vanity which, by comparison, is a trumpery, puny little sin. What you want is to keep a sly self-congratulation mixing with all his thoughts and never allow him to raise the question ‘What, precisely, am I congratulating myself about?’

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“The strongest and most beautiful of the vices—Spiritual Pride.” (130)

 

  1. According to Screwtape, why is spiritual pride “the strongest and most beautiful of the vices”?
  2. What is it about spiritual pride that is so dangerous and so difficult to detect in our hearts?
  3. After reading this letter, where is the Lord leading you to repent of spiritual pride?
Letter 25

LETTER 25:  “SAME OLD THING”

28 A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Proverbs 25:28 (ESV)

SUMMARY

God designed us to enjoy Rhythms, but the Devil distorts that into experiencing the Same Old Thing

My dear Wormwood,

The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity… Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas…

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“We pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty” (136)

 

  1. According to Screwtape, what is “the horror of the Same Old Thing”?
  2. How have you experienced “the horror of the Same Old Thing” in your own life?
  3. Where are you tempted to pursue “absolute novelty” instead of enjoying the rhythms of life?
Letter 26

LETTER 26: “UNSELFISHNESS”

12 Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 26:12 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The Lord desires for us to cultivate charity, but the Devil wants us to pursue Unselfishness

My dear Wormwood,

Yes; courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which will grow up ten years later into domestic hatred. The enchantment of unsatisfied desire produces results which the humans can be made to mistake for the results of charity…

The grand problem is that of ‘Unselfishness’. Note, once again, the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy’s positive Charity. Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them. That is a great point gained. Another great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes. A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others.

On top of these confusions you can now introduce a few more. The erotic enchantment produces a mutual complaisance in which each is really pleased to give in to the wishes of the other. They also know that the Enemy demands of them a degree of charity which, if attained, would result in similar actions. You must make them establish as a Law for their whole married life that degree of mutual self-sacrifice which is at present sprouting naturally out of the enchantment, but which, when the enchantment dies away, they will not have charity enough to enable them to perform. They will not see the trap, since they are under the double blindness of mistaking sexual excitement for charity and of thinking that the excitement will last.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them.” (141)

 

  1. In this letter, how does Screwtape plant seeds for today to ruin our marriages ten years from now?
  2. According to Screwtape, what is “Unselfishness” and how have you experienced it in your own life?
  3. Read Philippians 2:1-11. How can pursuing humility keep us from the dangers of Unselfishness?
Letter 27

LETTER 27:  “PRAYER”

6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:6 (ESV)

SUMMARY

If the Devil cannot keep us from praying, he will do the next best thing—frustrate our prayer life

My dear Wormwood,

You seem to be doing very little good at present. The use of his ‘love’ to distract his mind from the Enemy is, of course, obvious, but you reveal what poor use you are making of it when you say that the whole question of distraction and the wandering mind has now become one of the chief subjects of his prayers. That means you have largely failed. When this, or any other distraction, crosses his mind you ought to encourage him to thrust it away by sheer will power and to try to continue the normal prayer as if nothing had happened; once he accepts the distraction as his present problem and lays that before the Enemy and makes it the main theme of his prayers and his endeavors, then, so far from doing good, you have done harm. Anything, even a sin, which has the total effect of moving him close up to the Enemy, makes against us in the long run…

But since your patient has contracted the terrible habit of obedience, he will probably continue such ‘crude’ prayers whatever you do. But you can worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result. Don’t forget to use the ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and ‘therefore it would have happened anyway’, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Don’t forget to use the ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ argument.” (148)

 

  1. What frustrations and distractions are you currently experiencing in your own prayer life?
  2. How can Screwtape’s comments about distracting our prayer life actually help us fight distraction?
  3. According to Screwtape, what is the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument? How does the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-14 help us overcome the deceptiveness of this argument?
Letter 28

LETTER 28: “PROSPERITY AND PERSEVERING”

14 Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Proverbs 28:14 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The Devil is trying to steal our joy not merely through death, but also with dullness.

My dear Wormwood,

I know it seems strange that your chief aim at the moment should be the very same thing for which the patient’s lover and his mother are praying—namely his bodily safety. But so it is; you should be guarding him like the apple of your eye. If he dies now, you lose him. If he survives the war, there is always hope. The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally. The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it—all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition. If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him…

The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unravelling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him.” (155)

 

  1. Why are “the long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity” dangerous to our souls? In what ways have you or are you experiencing this in your own life?
  2. Meditate on Proverbs 30:7-9. How can this passage protect us from the dangers of prosperity?
  3. We often think of the tragedy of a short-lived life, but how does this letter instruct us on the dangers of a long-lived life?
Letter 29

LETTER 29:  “MUDDLING VIRTUES”

25 The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)

SUMMARY

The Devil cannot produce virtue, so he seeks to muddle our virtues

My dear Wormwood,

Our research department has not yet discovered (though success is hourly expected) how to produce any virtue. This is a serious handicap…

Hatred we can manage. The tension of human nerves during noise, danger, and fatigue, makes them prone to any violent emotion and it is only a question of guiding this susceptibility into the right channels. If conscience resists, muddle him. Let him say that he feels hatred not on his own behalf but on that of the women and children, and that a Christian is told to forgive his own, not other people’s enemies. In other words let him consider himself sufficiently identified with the women and children to feel hatred on their behalf, but not sufficiently identified to regard their enemies as his own and therefore proper objects of forgiveness.

But hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate…

 We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice… The danger of inducing cowardice in our patients, therefore, is lest we produce real self-knowledge and self-loathing with consequent repentance and humility…

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.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” (161)

 

  1. According to Screwtape, why is hatred combined with fear most dangerous?
  2. Meditate on Galatians 5:22-23. How does the fruit of the Spirit contrast with the fruit of Screwtape?
  3. How can we encourage one another to cultivate gospel courage in a hateful and fearful world?
Letter 30

LETTER 30: “FATIGUE”

5 Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Fatigue can produce the best in us, or it can reveal the worst in us

My dear Wormwood,

I sometimes wonder whether you think you have been sent into the world for your own amusement… The only constructive passage in your letter is where you say that you still expect good results from the patient’s fatigue. That is well enough. But it won’t fall into your hands. Fatigue can produce extreme gentleness, and quiet of mind, and even something like vision. If you have often seen men led by it into anger, malice and impatience, that is because those men have had efficient tempters. The paradoxical thing is that moderate fatigue is a better soil for peevishness than absolute exhaustion. This depends partly on physical causes, but partly on something else. It is not fatigue simply as such that produces the anger, but unexpected demands on a man already tired. Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury. It is after men have given in to the irremediable, after they have despaired of relief and ceased to think even a half-hour ahead, that the dangers of humbled and gentle weariness begin. To produce the best results from the patient’s fatigue, therefore, you must feed him with false hopes.

The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are ‘real’ while the spiritual elements are ‘subjective’; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist…

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

REFLECTION

“The paradoxical thing is that moderate fatigue is a better soil for peevishness than absolute exhaustion.”  (166)

 

  1. Why is it “that moderate fatigue is a better soil for peevishness than absolute exhaustion”? How have you experienced this subtle, yet dangerous, temptation in your own life?
  2. In the busyness of life, what “false hopes” has Screwtape been feeding you in your fatigue?
  3. Read Matthew 11:28-30. How does this passage provide the true rest you need for your weary souls?
Letter 31

LETTER 31: “GLORIFICATION”

9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:9 (ESV)

SUMMARY

Our greatest hope is to stand in the presence of God, which the Devil despises above all else.

My dear, my very dear, Wormwood, my poppet, my pigsnie,

You have let a soul slip through your fingers… It makes me mad to think of it. How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you! There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognized the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer. Just think (and let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment. By Hell, it is misery enough to see them in their mortal days taking off dirtied and uncomfortable clothes and splashing in hot water and giving little grunts of pleasure—stretching their eased limbs. What, then, of this final stripping, this complete cleansing?

The more one thinks about it, the worse it becomes. He got through so easily! No gradual misgivings, no doctor’s sentence, no nursing home, no operating theatre, no false hopes of life; sheer, instantaneous liberation… Defeated, out-maneuvered fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earth-born vermin entered the new life?

As he saw you, he also saw Them… He saw not only Them; he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man… He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed. Once more, the inexplicable meets us.

Your increasingly and ravenously

affectionate uncle
screwtape

REFLECTION

“You have let a soul slip through your fingers… It makes me mad to think of it.” (171)

 

  1. How does reading that the patient is now in the presence of the Lord comfort your soul today?
  2. How have you been challenged and encouraged as a disciple after reading Screwtape Letters?
  3. Meditate on 1 John 3:2-3. How does this truth conclude this study and provide you with hope today?

Worship Times:  Sundays at 8:30 and 11:00 am, Community Groups at 9:45 am. 

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