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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?

Sunday, July 3rd: One Worship Service at 9:30 am, No Community Groups

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