A Screwtape Kind of Day

All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated historically by Christians in companionship with All Saints’ Day. It is in Hebrews 11 and 12 where we read a litany of Jewish leaders who looked forward in faith to what God was working out. Then in 12:1-2, we see the great cloud of witnesses who look down from Heaven to encourage us to run the race set out to accomplish, remembering Jesus is both author and finisher. All Saints’ Day is also used as a catch-all when many churches list the parishioners who have died during the past year. If you have not worshiped somewhere during this short but significant time just before Advent, it’s worth doing.

So, it’s really not a Screwtape kind of day. We remember in Matthew 27:52-53, during the immediate in between of Jesus bodily dying and rising from the dead, when the tombs of Jerusalem were opened up and the holy people who had died rose up again and “appeared to many people.” That is not the passage read on All Hallow’s Eve, but it does demonstrate that in the end Screwtape and all his rebellious kind don’t get any days for themselves.

However, as a teaching tool, we’ll say again that it’s Screwtape’s kind of day, and read a few things from his point of view, which, since he’s a demon, is the opposite of anything good or profitable for Christian living. : )

“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. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew.” (Chapter 2)

“The great (and tooth- some) sinners are made out of the very same material as those horrible phenomena, the great Saints. The virtual disappearance of such material may mean insipid meals for us. But is it not utter frustration and famine for the Enemy? He did not create the humans—He did not become one of them and die among them by torture—in order to produce candidates for Limbo; ‘failed’ humans. He wanted to make Saints; gods; things like Himself. Is the dullness of your present fare not a very small price to pay for the delicious knowledge that His whole great experiment is petering out? But not only that. As the great sinners grow fewer, and the majority lose all individuality, the great sinners become far more effective agents for us. Every dictator or even demagogue—almost every film-star or crooner—can now draw tens of thousands of the human sheep with him. They give themselves (what there is of them) to him; in him, to us. There may come a time when we shall have no need to bother about individual temptation at all, except for the few. Catch the bell-wether and his whole flock comes after him.” (“Screwtape Proposes a Toast”)

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that Democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor, of course, must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether ‘democratic behaviour’ means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.” (“Screwtape Proposes a Toast”)

“If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. 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.” (Chapter 8)

And this conclusion, of course:

“You have let a soul slip through your fingers. The howl of sharpened famine for that loss re-echoes at this moment through all the levels of the Kingdom of Noise down to the very Throne itself. 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 recognised the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer.” (Chapter 30)

In a 1951 letter to Mrs. Lockley, he gives this warning, which is a good reminder. “If only we could steadfastly do that while we are happy, I suppose we should need no misfortunes” he says. “It is hard on God really. To how few of us He dare send happiness because He knows we will forget Him if He gave us any sort of nice things for the moment… I do get that sudden feeling that the whole thing is hocus pocus and it now worries me hardly at all. Surely the mechanism is quite simple? Sceptical, incredulous, materialistic ruts have been deeply engraved in our thought, perhaps even in our physical brains by all our earlier lives. At the slightest jerk our thought will flow down those old ruts. And notice when the jerks come. Usually at the precise moment when we might receive Grace. And if you were a devil would you not give the jerk just at those moments? I think that all Christians have found that he is very active near the altar or on the eve of conversion: worldly anxieties, physical discomforts, lascivious fancies, doubt, are often poured in at such junctures… But the Grace is not frustrated. One gets more by pressing steadily on through these interruptions than on occasions when all goes smoothly…”

There are other moments in Lewis’ writings too. Certainly, the evil that he narrates us into and out of in his space trilogy and Narnia books are good examples. Always with Lewis, I feel like the disguise of Hell and the holiness of Heaven lose a bit of their respective masks and we’re able to peak in, albeit through imagination, closer to where these kingdoms collide and fight. It’s akin to Paul, who tells the churches in Ephesus, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12).

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