Letter #1 And so it begins, but notice that it’s not at the beginning. Screwtape is responding to a letter that Wormwood wrote – but we don’t get to read. In fact – we never get to read what Wormwood writes – much as we never really get to “hear” what Satan “says” to us.
We are going to jump right in – so pay close attention to the characters!
I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïve? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches.
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.
1.1) What is the relationship between Screwtape and Wormwood?
Compare Screwtape & Wormwood with Jesus & us
Screwtape is a devil experienced in tempting humans. He is giving advice to his inexperienced nephew, Wormwood. As opposed to our case, where the teacher is Jesus – and we have the task of converting others to Him. Just one example of Jesus as teacher is in
Mt 11:1 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
And – in the case of the disciples as the original “students” who were learning – they needed help from the Teacher – just as Wormwood needs help from his mentor (Screwtape)
Mk 9:14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
Mk 9:16“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
Mk 9:17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
Mk 9:19“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
Mk 9:20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Mk 9:21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Mk 9:23“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Mk 9:24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mk 9:25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
Mk 9:26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
Mk 9:28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
Mk 9:29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.’”
Mk 9:30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
Also note 2 sequences from this scripture related to us as students and the need for a teacher / mentor:
Mk 9:23“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mk 9:24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
where we see that even if we want to believe – sometimes it isn’t quite so simple.
Mk 9:28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Mk 9:29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.’”
where we see that is isn’t just “up to us” – we need God – through prayer.
1.2) Why does Screwtape call the man “the patient”?
Again, compare Screwtape and Jesus
As a doctor works to heal a patient, Wormwood is working to tempt this man away from God and towards Satan, trying to “heal” him of his faith.
Compare this with when Jesus called Matthew:
Mt 9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
Mt 9:10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
Mt 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy’s own ground.
By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?
Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real’.
1.3) Who is “The Enemy” and who is “Our Father Below”?
Remember - things may not be as you expect
Remember – this is all backwards.
“The Enemy” – defined from Screwtape’s point of view is in fact God.
By the same token – “Our Father Below” – is Screwtape and Wormwood’s “father” – Satan.
It may take a few letters – or even several – to get used to this. It does server a purpose though – it allows C. S. Lewis to write things in a way that both teach us and entertain us – and let us see a side of Satan and Hell that wouldn’t really work if it was written the “normal” way.
By the way – notice that Wormwood is Screwtape’s nephew – whereas Jesus is God’s son. Lewis shows Jesus as a direct descendant of God and Wormwood as once removed in the relationship with uncle Screwtape.
1.4) What does Screwtape mean by “real life”?
Is real life really that bad?
Screwtape is referring to the ordinary, everyday existence that serves to distract humans.
For a very good like at “real life” – Ecclesiastes is a great book.
It starts off with –
Ecc 1:1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: Ecc 1:2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.” Ecc 1:3 What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun? Ecc 1:4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever. Ecc 1:5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises. Ecc 1:6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
And yet – the author ends with this great conclusion about “real life” –
Ecc 12:1 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”— Ecc 12:2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain; Ecc 12:3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim; Ecc 12:4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when men rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint; Ecc 12:5 when men are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags himself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then man goes to his eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
As bad as it may sound – and as bad as things may seem –
Remember your Creator
Then man goes to his eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
“Real life” may be kind of not so good –
but if we remember our creator –
then when this life is done –
the mourners will still be in the streets mourning –
but we’ll be spending the rest of eternity with our Creator (not mourning!)
1.5) Even as he tells Wormwood to keep the patient focused on “real life” – he is worried that “argument” – thinking & reasoning – will move the struggle to The Enemy’s ground. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; Why would Screwtape be worried about this?
Rational argument would awaken the patient’s reason, “and once it is awake, who can see the result?” Screwtape is afraid that rational argument may lead to God’s truth.
This is reminiscent of Isaiah 1:18-20 –
Isa 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.
Isa 1:19 “ If you consent and obey,
You will eat the best of the land; Isa 1:20 “But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.”
Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Reasoning with God
Can you even imagine being able to “reason together” with God?
No wonder Screwtape is afraid of that.
If we even start to do that – to reason with God and get even a little bit from Him – / Wormwood / Satan are going to lose that battle every time.
For example – here is one instance of Paul’s reasoning and the outcome from it –
Ac 17:1 When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.
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 realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist,
He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about ‘that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic’. He is now safe in Our Father’s house.
1.6) There is a statement that Screwtape makes which is very telling – it gives an insight into something he is worried about:
Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s!)
What is he talking about and why is this an advantage for God?
Here are some Scripture references
The Birth of Jesus Christ
Mt 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Mt 1:20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Mt 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Mt 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The Supremacy of Christ
Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Col 1:16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
Col 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Col 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
Col 1:22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—
Col 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and f which I, Paul, have become a servant.
BTW – don’t forget – Satan is a fallen angel
The Son Superior to Angels
Heb 1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
Heb 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Heb 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Heb 1:4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Heb 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father’” ? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son” ?
The Temptation of Jesus
Mt 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Mt 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’”
Mt 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘
He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’’”
Mt 4:7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’’”
Mt 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Mt 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’’”
Mt 4:11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Having been a man, Jesus (God) knows exactly what we’ve been through.
You begin to see the point?
Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see.
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
1.7) Having already considered “reasoning” in 1.5, notice the statement Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. This sounds so backwards from what many people believe to be the case. How is it that science – which is so often used to try to disprove that God even exists – can be something that these devils are so afraid of?
If Wormwood’s patient occupied himself with reading science, he might quickly discover that he doesn’t know it all. He may more readily accept belief in something outside of his familiar “real life.”
Science can lead to reason at a level that could either be provable – or could be not provable but capable of showing that there are so many things we don’t understand. For example – what about parallel universes as an explanation for this from Genesis –
Ge 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Notice – the tree wasn’t removed or destroyed – the Garden wasn’t either. The tree is just guarded from us – not visible to us. So where did it go and how come there isn’t a hole of some sort where it should have been?
These are the kinds of questions that science can begin to provide some possibilities to show that what the Bible says could actually be true even though it seems far fetched or maybe should be taken as a story. This is not to say that parallel universes is definitely the answer to “How did God do that?” – it’s just to show that there are ways that even we humans (“patients”) can come up with from our limited knowledge.