The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is a collection of letters between two fictitious devils, “Uncle Screwtape” and his nephew “Wormwood”. This insightful little book follows the letters of advice from Screwtape, higher up in the satanic ranks, to Wormwood, a tempter on earth, on the methods and tricks to steer his patient away from the enemy “God and his kingdom”. This book, like no other, lays out all our tendencies and failings as human beings, while at the same time giving you, as a reader, incentive to rise above them. It opens your mind so vividly to the exponential power and light of Christ, that it can not help but bring you into the ever so real struggle between the kingdoms of Good and Evil, even if only in little ways. As a review in the New York Times put it, “Somewhere in the inferno there must be a considerable annoyance.” 

One of the biggest reasons I think The Screwtape Letters is such an effective and powerful book is because it is written from the devil’s perspective. In this form the book captivated me in an entirely original way. It gave me the powerful feeling of understanding, it was like a breeze in the fog, temporarily forcing me to face the distance. I really believe it is one of the most brilliant books written. The whole idea of Screwtape writing letters on the finer points of temptation to his nephew Wormwood, combined with an opportunity of sitting down with the edited thoughts of one of the greatest Christian thinkers, had an amazing effect on me. The result was, an opportunity for me to clearly face my faults and to see my potential.  By having the stereotypical perspective on Christianity reversed, I had the wholehearted satisfaction of feeling I was in some way outwitting the devil. This in particular had such an effect on me, that in recent weeks when had I found myself frustrated and about to lose my temper or discontent and snappy I would suddenly realize the benefit this would be to Screwtape, which would instantly cause me to check my behavior, and than to smugly feel I had outmaneuvered his trap, muttering under my breath a gleeful cry of “Not today Uncle Screwtape.” 

There were so many sections of this book that either introduced me to a completely new thought or concept, or phrased in clear English a foggy picture I might have otherwise never clearly understood. For example one of the points which hit me as a literal prescription to one of my biggest problems, which is me constantly over analyzing of the past, is the part where Screwtape says of God that, “His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.” Too often I completely miss out on the present by indulging myself in a degrading self critique of every instance where I messed up in the day. I don’t commit these instances of failure, that I was probably the only one to notice, to heaven, then wash myself of them like God wisely says to do. Instead I dig through them all and let them define me. I dont give myself the love or grace God offers me. I unfairly give the past the power to cheat the present. 

Another passage that stuck out to me is where Screwtape says God, (the enemy in the book’s context) “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.” This passage is by far my favorite. Everytime I read it, it creates wonder in me, adding glorious details to my painting of what hope looks like. It speaks to me of a wonderful invitation, to begin a journey, a journey towards a kingdom that is full, but always has room for one more. Where people build cathedrals and know they are just right. As the passage goes on, it adds that, “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 neighbors talents or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man to recognize all creatures ( even himself) as glorious and excellent things.” I love the fact that we were created to create and to someday have the kind of perfect love for our neighbors and ourselves, that we can say of what we have done, that, “It is good.” 

I think The Screwtape Letters is an important book to read. It has equipped me with answers to so many questions I have had and given me no choice but to confront myself honestly and begin to intentionally seek out my problems. It has opened my eyes to so many temptations I fall into daily but at the same time I see the incredible grace and love God has for me more than ever before, so rather than being discouraged I feel grace. Being reminded that if I fall I will be caught has filled me with the courage to keep on leaping forward. As C.S.Lewis says so well in his book,“He wants them to learn how to walk . . . and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.


Today’s article is a guest post written by Sonora Myers. She is my daughter and quite the writer – among many things – in her own right.

The Transformative, Shaping Power of Books

The Transformative, Shaping Power of Books

This last year I read significantly more than years past.  Too much perhaps, but reading has become a sort of hobby for me, an activity away from work that allows me to unwind and relax. I’ve heard that hobbies are important.  A few years ago tried to take up fishing but never caught anything and so, whenever someone asked me what my hobby was I’d reply, “casting.”  It seemed right to name it what it was.

While I”ve always been a reader, last year I read more books than any previous year. The final count came in at sixty six books.  I read widely too: youth fiction, biography, Christian non-fiction, personal development, history and increasingly, those books who find their way into the category of classic literature.  A good two thirds of the books I read were audiobooks and I regularly have two to three books going at any one time. I never read more than one book of fiction at a time but I’ll often have several works of non-fiction that I am working through.

C.S. Lewis said, “Those of us who have been true readers all our lives seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our own being which we owe to authors.”  When I think about who I’ve become, my own journey of discipleship and how I think about the world this rings true.  Books are perhaps the single most constant source of my own personal formation.  They’ve shaped me both directly and indirectly.  Besides good friends, books continue to fire my imagination, challenge my thinking and shape the narrative, the worldview of my thinking.  

Dorothy Sayers said that, “the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves.”  There is little in life that allows me to continue to educate myself beyond books.  Youtube can give me the information I need to fix a faucet but little more.  Books however, and good books for sure, cause the mind to work at the task of cultivation, tilling the soil of the mind and the soul, planting seeds of old ideas made new, waiting in patient anticipation for new growth and, if all goes well, a harvest.  Speaking of reading history, John Lewis Gaddis said, “Standing in the past is no sure guide to predicting the future. What it does do, though, is to prepare you for the future by expanding experience, so that you can increase your skills, your stamina, and, if all goes well, your wisdom.

A good book is more than just paper and ink.  It is a vehicle for formation and as Gaddis hopes, for the gaining of wisdom.  And so I continue to read.  Perhaps not at the same rate as last year but I’ll read on nonetheless.  

How about you? What good books have you read lately?