Screwtape talks about “friends” in the previous letter.
Now, it’s back to the patient himself.
My dear Wormwood,
Everything is clearly going very well. I am specially glad to hear that the two new friends have now made him acquainted with their whole set. … who without any spectacular crimes are progressing quietly and comfortably towards Our Father’s house.
11.1) From last week’s letter, we talked about the friends we have / the things we do – how we can be influenced by them. How are things going for the patient, compared to our discussion last week?
Firends and Community
Rather than bringing his two new friends into his church community, the patient is becoming part of his friends’ community.
Look at what Jesus says on the topic of friends:
Jn 15:12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Given this, what should we take away as our own way of choosing friends + how we interact with them. Do we choose friends who would agree with this – who would either help us or be helped by us to achieve this kind of friendship? Or do we choose someone who would take us in the opposite direction?
As to the lack of spectacular crimes – they aren’t necessary. This is addressed again at the end of letter #12. Let’s wait for then to talk about it (if it seems appropriate at this point.)
You speak of their being great laughers. … The point is worth some attention.
I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. … Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged. Besides, the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.
11.2) Screwtape says that he does not know what the “real cause” of joy is. From John 15:5-11 and 16:19-24, what does the Bible says is the real cause of joy and how does that fit in with Screwtape’s assumptions about joy?
Jesus' words in John 15:11
Notice especially what Jesus says about joy in verse 11:
Jn 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Jn 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Joy and Grief
And in this section, Jesus talks about Joy – coming out of grief.
Jn 16:17 Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
Jn 16:19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Fun is closely related to Joy—a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us….it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.
The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, … Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. … Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as ‘Puritanical’ or as betraying a ‘lack of humour’.
11.3) Even fun gets a bad name in Screwtape’s view. What is it about fun & joy – and our choice of friends – that makes them inviting to Satan. And why do they start to stray from the intent of joy that is in the Bible?
As Christians, we’re supposed to be different from the rest of the world (meaning non-Christians). Various ways this is said has to do with not conforming to the ways of the world, being a light to the world (meaning we are to be an example of how to live), etc.
Jesus before Pilate
See how Jesus talks about not being of this world when He’s before Pilate:
Jesus Before Pilate
Jn 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
Jn 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
Jn 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.
Jn 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jn 18:34“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
Jn 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jn 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Jn 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Jn 18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
Jn 18:40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.
Your affectionate uncle
11.4) And finally, we get to flippancy – where there is no joy. How do we stray so far – what things influence this and keep us going down the path? And how can we get out of it. How can we help others get out of it?
Remember what James said about taming the tongue
Consider from James –
Taming the Tongue Jas 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
Jas 3:3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Jas 3:7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Jas 3:9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Thomas Merton on James 3:5
Here’s a section of commentary by Thomas Manton – related to verse 5:
Commentary on Verse 5
Likewise the tongue is but a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
Likewise the tongue is but a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Here the simile is repeated; the tongue is like a bridle and rudder, small in size and yet very useful. Makes great boasts is indeed the proper meaning of the Greek word. From the context James could have said, “does great things,” for what was shown was that someone who can control his tongue can control his whole body. To support such a proposition, James gives two illustrations that show that little things through good management may be very useful. From this he could have inferred that the small part of the body, the tongue, can do great things if it is under control. But James repeats the main proposition to support a different argument. It is as if he had said, “The tongue witnesses for itself; for by it people trumpet their presumptions and boast that they can do great things.” He gives the example of boasting because:
(1) It is the usual sin of the tongue. This is the part of the body that most serves pride.
(2) It is usually the sin of those who have no control over their spirits and actions. Hypocrites and vain men are proud boasters. “Flattering lips” and “every boastful tongue” are linked together (Psalm 12:3). And in Proverbs 14:3 we read, “A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back.” True grace humbles; false grace puffs up.
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. Another simile, showing that great disasters come from the abuse of so small a thing. You would think that words, which pass away with the breath in which they are uttered, would not have such a deadly influence; but, says the apostle, a small spark kindles much wood. Small things should not be neglected in nature, art, religion, or providence. In nature, important things grow from small beginnings. Nature loves to have the seed of everything small; a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.
Notes on Verse 5
Note 1. A frequent sin of the tongue is boasting. Sometimes the pride of the heart comes from the eyes; therefore we read about “haughty eyes” (Proverbs 6:17). But usually it is displayed in our speech. The tongue trumpets it in these ways:
(1) In bold boasting. See Isaiah 14:13, where the king of Babylon threatens to fight against God himself, and then against his people. See also Hannah’s resolve in 1 Samuel 2:3.
(2) In proud ostentation of our own worth. First we entertain our spirits with whispers of vanity and suppositions of applause; and then the rage of vainglory is so great that we trumpet out our own shame. It is wrong for a man to promote his own cause. In the Olympic Games the wrestlers did not put crowns on their own heads. What is justifiable praise on another’s lips is boasting on our own.
(3) In contemptuous challenges of God and man. Of God: as Pharaoh challenged in effect, “Who is the God of the Hebrews, that I should let you go?” Consider also Psalm 12:4, “We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips—who is our master?” Of man: provocative speeches are recorded in the Word. Solomon says, “A fool’s lips bring him strife” (Proverbs 18:6).
(4) In bragging promises, as if they could accomplish great matters beyond the reach of their gifts and strength: “I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils” (Exodus 15:9).
Note 2. Take notice of small things. We must not consider only their beginning but their end. A little sin does a great deal of harm, and a little grace has great efficacy: “At the beginning his words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness” (Ecclesiastes 10:13). At first people argue for fun but later break out into furious passion, and so from folly go on to madness. “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out” (Proverbs 17:14). It is easy to let out the water, but who can call the floods back? Strife is sometimes compared to fire, sometimes to water; both are treacherous elements once they are let loose. At first heresy is a small matter, but it spreads like gangrene from one place to another until it has destroyed the whole body. Arius, a small Alexandrian spark, kindled all the world in a flame. Providence too begins great matters in a small way. Luther’s reformation was occasioned by opposing pardoners. Christ’s kingdom was despised at first as a poor, tender branch. Later it “filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35).
(1) Learn not to neglect evils that are small in their inception; resist sin early on (see Ephesians 4:27); give no place to Satan. Look out for the first sign of error. “We did not give in to them for a moment,” says the apostle (Galatians 2:5).
(2) Do not despise the humble beginnings of providence and deliverance; there is a “day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10). Philpot said the martyrs in England had kindled such a light in England as should not easily go out.