A 31 day commentary by Madelyn Christian Peterson
Although fiction, beloved Christian apologetic novel The Screwtape Letters certainly does not lack spiritual truths. Its 31 chapters are a perfect format for a month long commentary series. Join me as we break down CS Lewis’s beloved novel and get insight on the spirit war in a creative and fun new way. Want more? Find a copy & read along as we dissect the letters of Screwtape!
Three days into the new year. What will this year hold? Yesterday’s chapter left me with more questions. I want to thoroughly understand the salvation process. Holy Spirit led me to do a study of Romans, which I learned is considered the most theological book in the bible. This made me very excited. I’ve read in Romans before, but I am developing the discipline of studying the Word book to book. There’s life breathing from within its living pages, and when I read them, life activates in me.
The third letter begins, as each one does, with warm greetings, “My dear Wormwood,” and proceeds, “I am very pleased by what you tell me about this man’s relations with his mother.”
This chapter reveals how the enemy works to drive a wedge between families. Framed around the ‘patients’ relationship with his mother, we are given a glimpse into how the enemy uses small annoyances; “daily pinpricks”, as Screwtape says, to wreak havoc in relationships.
Screwtape notes, “The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards, gradually bringing more and more of the patient’s conduct under the new standard,” no doubt speaking of the Holy Spirit developing the new life of the believer.
Screwtape speaks in military manner, encouraging Wormwood to stay one step ahead of ‘the Enemy’ and continues to list a few “useful” methods. We see the first mention of another demonic character named Glubose, “who is in charge of the (patient’s) mother.” The idea that we each have a specific demon assigned to destroying our lives is satirical, however not outside the realm of possibility Lewis imagines.
We know that “the thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy”(John 10:10, but Jesus has come so we may have life abundantly). And we know that “the prince of the power of the air” is a “spirit who works in the sons of disobedience”(Ephesians 2:2, BUT God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ). Peter instructs us to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
Whether or not we have an individual demon assigned to us is of no importance; what is important is understanding how the enemy orchestrates his attacks, the methods he uses, which are almost always so subtle they go undetected, so we can counterstrike effectively. We are in an all out war that we can’t see. That is why we must be aware, grow in spiritual discernment, and grab hold of the weapons Christ has laid out for us to wield.
Lewis allows us inside the mind of the enemy, behind enemy lines in a sense, to help us identify when spiritual warfare is being used against us. Then, we can breakthrough in the power of Spirit and truth with the full armor of God and overcome his deception. We can learn to wield our weapons and rest under God’s protection and truth.
Screwtape instructs Wormwood to work together with Glubose, the man’s mother’s demon, to create a toxic environment between the mother and son. First, he tells Wormwood to “keep his mind on the inner life,” which sounded like bad advice to me, but Lewis exhibits how focus on your inner life does not translate to expressions of Godliness.
We don’t become Christians to fix ourselves, we become Christians and Jesus does the fixin’.
Sometimes I’ll spend hours reading my bible and fail to show love to my husband or neighbor or cats. I’ll neglect calling back friends or family members to finish what I’m working on. In this, I am allowing the enemy to direct my mind “to the most advanced and spiritual” duties why neglecting what Jesus would do. “Neglect of the obvious” is a “most useful human characteristic” to the enemy.
It’s important to get away with the Father, Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Time alone with the Father is how we fuel ourselves to minister to others. But if your ‘spiritual duty’ gets in the way of loving people, its being used as a tool for the enemy. Your time with God should fuel your love for others as much as it transforms your own inner life.
It’s certainly about allowing the Spirit to bring balance into your life and being aware of when your “spirituality” is getting in the way of you loving someone.
Second, Screwtape insists Wormwood ensures his patients prayers for his mother are more “concerned with the state of her soul” than “her rheumatism,” that is, a painful health disorder. Screwtape is confronting me personally. It’s natural to pray for our friends and families to know Christ, but we shouldn’t let our idea of who they should be get in the way of loving them best.
Screwtape talks about how the man’s “attention will be kept on what he regards as her (his mother’s) sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself.” The enemy will try to interrupt our prayer life and try to “render the prayers innocuous.” We don’t want our prayers to become complaints about people. We don’t want to let satan manipulate our good intentions to pray for others into fixating on their downfalls.
When this happens, we paint a picture of our loved one thats more imaginary than real. We (and I mean me) lash out at our loved ones when we feel they deserve it (even if they do deserve it) because we just got done focusing on how “bad” they are, or how they’ve negatively affected our lives.
I understand there’s a point when it may be necessary to cut people out of your life. But I try to give people the benefit of the doubt like Jesus did me. Jesus didn’t hold my sin against me on the cross two thousand years ago, and He doesn’t hold it against me today. He died so the men who beat Him and hung Him on the cross could be saved. With Jesus I am given the capability to forgive far past the extent which I could naturally do other wise or even wish to at times.
Let not condemnation cloud our love for others.
Screwtape brags about once having a patient “so well in hand they could be turned from a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.” This passage echoes behavior I’ve seen in my own family. You see stories all the time of religious types who mistreat their wives. The enemy blinds you to your own madness, and tries to highlight the hypocrisy of men as proof of the folly of religion.
It’s clear that this chapter speaks of satan utilizing a religious spirit, a type of demonic spirit that influences a person, or group of people, to replace a genuine relationship with God with works and traditions. Here, we see the religious spirit come into play by “praying openly” in a sense, while secretly harboring resentment towards others and thinking of ourselves as “better” because of our ‘spiritual position’.
An article from Curt Landry Ministries states, “This spirit will skillfully mutter words of judgment toward others in a Believer’s life. This voice will become louder and louder until he or she feels completely justified to place blame and accuse their brethren. This, like the position of honor, isolates the Believer and can blind them of their own weaknesses.”
Lastly the demon discusses the final methods of disruption: tones, looks, the misinterpretation of both, and a victim mentality.
“Let him think how much he dislikes it,” being the way his mother raises her eyebrow. “Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy” So guilty of this with my own mother and spouse and brother and father. We let little things fester under the skin, we convince ourselves they are intent on annoying us, and we resent them for it. Of course, we never consider that we have “tones and looks that similarly annoy” them, too.
“Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention,” Screwtape writes, Lewis confronting our self-serving bias. This leaves us convinced we “are quite innocent.”
The enemy will incite little arguments, that press on our wounds if we don’t allow the Lord to heal them. Screwtape gives the example of asking someone (I picture a man asking his wife), “what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper.” Once again, I experience this within my own family and am also guilty of having an “express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.”
I’m not blaming everything on the devil, I wouldn’t ever attribute that much power to him. We are in charge of our own choices. In fact, that is precisely my point. We are more in charge of our own choices than we realize. Yet the enemy has somehow finagled us into ‘not seeing or hearing ourselves’, where we live under the impression we have little to no control over our instinctual reactions to adversity–what annoys us.
There are supernatural forces at work that influence us. If we are aware of it, we can fight back. I see where I’ve given the enemy leeway in my life and I shut it down. I let the Holy Spirit renew my mind to think like Him and speak peace and joy over my family and enjoy the gift Christ’s given me in them. I let go of resentment and a religious spirit and just love on people like Christ did and trust Holy Spirit to do His work.
Through Christ we can resist negativity, spitefulness, malice, anger, wrath, and instead release the fruit of the spirit which is peace, love, joy, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
Screwtape ends his letter to his dear Wormwood as always, signed,
“Your affectionate Uncle, SCREWTAPE.”
Please unleash the kind of love in me that allows me to love others like you do. Hide my thoughts safely with You where the enemy can’t reach them. I submit my thoughts to make them obedient to You.
In Jesus mighty name,
What do you think of Screwtape so far? I’d love to hear your thoughts!