The Screwtape Letters, written by C. S. Lewis in 1942, is a classic work of Christian apologetics and inspiration. The book is a series of letters from an experienced tempter named Screwtape to an apprentice temper named Wormwood. In the letters, Screwtape advises Wormwood about how to pull a certain human “patient” away from God and toward the depths of Hell.
Here are the five passages in The Screwtape Letters which are highlighted most often by readers on Kindle:
1. The Safe Road to Hell
Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
It is often said that we are either moving toward God or away from Him. But if we have too great a sense of moving away from Him, we may stop moving from Him and try to move toward Him. God wants us to understand the true state of our souls—the way that He sees us. But Satan wants us in the dark, moving away but not realizing it; falling deeper while not recognizing we are falling at all. Then, after we have fallen very far, we may finally look up and see how far away we are from God, and despair of God’s ability to pull us back.
To understand our true selves, frequent Confession is an indispensable tool, since it requires us soberly and unsentimentally to assess ourselves. It is especially good to go to the same confessor regularly, since this gives us less chance to excuse our faults.
2. Keeping Things Out
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.
There is nothing which naturally works in the Devil’s favor. The real world, the one we see when we look outside of our narrow selves, is good and true and beautiful. The Devil is evil and false and ugly. Nature is wondrous and expansive and profligate, just like God. Only by keeping us huddled in the corners of our own minds can Satan keep us from noticing this.
3. What Will Happen to Me?
There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy (God). He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
Someone once said that God will help you with real problems, but He won’t necessarily help you with problems you imagine out of nothing. Too many times we go through our days worrying about this or that thing which might happen—despite the fact that 99 times out of 100 our fears are wholly unfounded. How many times have we worried and worried and worried about some future event, only to find that in reality there was nothing to worry about?
We can only be sure that we have today. Today we have obligations of duty and love. Today let us do those things. As Jesus tells us in the Gospels, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
4. Forsaken, Yet Obedient
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.
We think of love as an emotion, but it is really an act of the will. It is a choice that we make each and every day. Jesus tells us, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” If we love, then we will obey the commandments even when we don’t want to, even when God seems far from us.
Human emotions ebb and flow. We feel better on some days than on others; we even feel better at some times of day than others. But no matter how we feel at a given time, God’s love is constant. God loves us no less on bad days than on good ones, and we should do the same for Him.
5. Emotional Dryness
If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.
There are times when our love of the things of God is great, and other times when the things of God do not move us at all. At times we can go through what is called The Dark Night of the Soul. This dark night may in fact last many nights. After her death, it was revealed that Mother Teresa endured a dark night of the soul for most of her adult life.
If Mother Teresa was so plagued by spiritual dryness, how was she able to carry on her mission to make God’s caring love tangible to the poorest of the poor? It was only because she understood that her work was not dependent on an emotional feeling of love, but rather the act of her will to show love.
It is the same with us. We don’t always feel an emotional love for our spouse or children or siblings or coworkers. But the lack of an emotional love should not prevent us from acting in love toward them.
You might also like these related articles by Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian: