Things sounded rather well for Screwtape and Wormwood at the end of the first letter.
Letter #2 doesn’t start quite so well. Not well at all – from their point of view.
My dear Wormwood,
I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties; indeed, in your better moments,
There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.
2.1) We see a bit about how the workers in Hell are treated when they make mistakes – and the expectations about desired punishments for mistakes. Contrast that with how God treats his followers when we make mistakes.
Mistakes. - yes. But it's really about blame.
First – a word about mistakes, from Charles Stanley’s Walking wisely: Real guidance for life’s journey.
Most of us make mistakes because we do not know the right choice or decision to make. We do not consciously say, “I am now going to make a mistake.” Rather, we tend to make mistakes by being careless regarding the needs or desires of others, by not asking the right questions, or by not taking into consideration all the factors that are important to consider.
Most of the time our mistakes do not affect us alone. Others are nearly always involved. In fact, we tend to know we have made a mistake because somebody else tells us so! When we seek God’s wisdom, He leads us to decisions that are right, just, equitable, and good not only for us personally, but for everybody involved. God’s Word says,
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path. (Prov. 2:8–9)
So we see one thing right off – Wormwood’s mistake may very well have been related to following the advice of his mentor – Screwtape.
Whereas – with us – if we follow the path that God has set for us – the mistake won’t be there. He won’t lead us to someplace we shouldn’t be – or into results that should not have happened.
But when we don’t follow Him – when we make the mistake of not listening to Him – or hearing but ignoring – then what?
There are so many examples of forgiveness in the Bible – I could put a bunch of them here – but I leave it for you to do that – I am only going to choose one. It’s from Luke 23:34. The scene is Jesus hanging on the cross – waiting to die – with those responsible for His death gathered around watching. And Jesus says –
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
A little later – still on the cross – between two criminals – one of them insulted Jesus while the other asks Jesus to remember him when He goes to His kingdom. And Jesus says –
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Even when we mess up – don’t follow the way God sets for us – we still have that path back. God isn’t asking us to pay the price – He’s already done that for us through Jesus.All we have to do is ask.
Screwtape – he’s expecting that his own nephew will want to be punished – even though it’s quite possible the only thing Wormwood did was listen to his uncle Screwtape.
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.
Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter.
2.2) Why does Screwtape encourage Wormwood to focus on church members that are his patient’s neighbors he has previously avoided?
Day and night. Light and dark. Love and Hate.
A big part of the issue here is Screwtape’s feelings about those people in the pews. BTW – if it hasn’t quite hit you yet – that’s us – you and me – sitting in those pews around some little devil’s patient. And – also remember – we are also some little devil’s patient too!
Anyway – look at the descriptions here – it’s pretty bad – trying to get the patient to focus on the worst possible things about the building – the people – even the books. But it’s the people that are key – because we see these people – we interact with them – and tend to compare ourselves to them. And from someone’s point of view – we are them.
Contrast that with what Paul says in the “Love” section of Romans 12:9-21 –
Ro 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Ro 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Ro 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Ro 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
No question – these two are night and day different. (Pun intended here – night and day – dark and light – Satan and God – absence of love and pure Love).
If we are to take Screwtape’s view of people – it’s not hard to see the problem – the distractions – and the path away from God.
If we take Paul’s view – the things that Screwtape points out really don’t matter:
Honor one another above yourselves.
Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune,
Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords
2.3) Ouch! Now we see a stark example of what Screwtape thinks of Wormwood’s patient – of people – of us. Again, contrast this with God’s view of us.
Mistakes and Blame. Especially Blame. And the price to be paid.
The first sentence in this section sums up Screwtape’s attitude about us –
Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool.
On the other hand – Jesus has this to say about us, in the Parable of the Lost Sheep from Luke 15:1-7 –
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Lk 15:1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Lk 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and 6 goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
To God – we are someone worth looking for – rescuing – bringing us back – and rejoicing over us. Not something to be if He thinks we are fools.
In Genesis – we see another instance of how God felt when He created us –
At the end of the first day of creation – there is no “editorial comment” from God after starting things off with light and dark.
At the end of the second day – still no comment after separating the sky and the water.
At the end of the third day – which saw the formation of land and vegetation growing on that land – God saw that it was good.
At the end of the fourth day – we see the stars and the moon and day and night – and God saw that it was good.
At the end of the fifth day – where we see fish and birds – God saw that it was good.
On the sixth day – we see land animals – and God saw that it was good. Also on the sixth day – after seeing that things were good up to that point – God creates man and sets him up as ruler over all the fish and birds and animals and plants.
Up to this point – things were good.
After man comes in – things were very good.
Don’t remember this exactly – check it out in Genesis 1:1-31
2.4) Take the comparison further and compare what Screwtape writes to how God views us when we first start to become believers – or even just want to get to know about Him.
We will all learn the truth. The question is - when?
What Screwtape wants is for us to not really know anything – then we’ll be toys for him after we die – and then, when it’s too late – we find out the truth.
Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.
As for God – did you know, in the NIV, Jesus says “I tell you the truth” 78 times in the Gospels. Seventy eight times! He didn’t wait for us to find out the truth after we died. He’s trying to tell us before we die. Then – if we get it – we can be like the man on the cross who knew Jesus was God – and we can be in paradise with Jesus too. Not as a toy to amuse Him – but as someone He cares about – cared enough to die for.
Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.
The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants—‘sons’ is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals.
But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.
2.5.1) What “anticlimax” does Screwtape expect the patient will experience?
More hidden truth
In spite of what Jesus tried to tell His disciples about His coming death – they didn’t believe – didn’t accept what he was saying –
Mt 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Mt 16:22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
– and were devastated when it happened. That was certainly an anticlimax. They were expecting great things –
and their Leader died.
In a similar way – we often expect at the beginning – that becoming a Christian will mean that God will watch out for us – and everything will be great. But – just like the disciples didn’t get the point of Jesus dying being a good thing (otherwise – there’s no resurrection and therefore no conquering death) – we don’t really get that this life may not be so great – but the next one will be.
2.5.2) According to him, why does God allow Christians to go through such experiences?
Believe it or not - Screwtape was right about this
Screwtape kind of gets this one right – God does have a reason for this.
Peter – who was the one above who didn’t get it – spells this out pretty plainly for us in 1 Peter 1:3-12 –
Praise to God for a Living Hope
1Pe 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
2.5.3) Have you faced these experiences in your own spiritual life? What has resulted?
You're on your own here.
Sorry – these are your experiences. Can’t help you with this.
I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment.
At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug’, commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can,
Your affectionate uncle
2.6) Screwtape claims that Wormwood’s patient is not fully convinced of his own sinfulness:
He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. . . . At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted. . . .
Read Genesis 6:5
The Flood Ge 6:1 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
Ge 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Ge 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
Read Psalm 19:12
Ps 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
… Ps 19:12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults. Ps 19:13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
Read Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 17:9
Jer 9:23 This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
Jer 9:24 but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD.
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
Read Luke 18:9—14
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Lk 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
Lk 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
Lk 18:14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Read Romans 3:19
Ro 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
How do these passages speak to the issues of
(1) our ability to know fully the extent of our sin;
Clearly, these passages talk about sin. So – OK – so maybe we’re thinking – I haven’t murdered anyone – I’m not that bad – I haven’t sinned that much. The problem is – in Matthew 5:21-26 – Jesus tells us this about murder –
Mt 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Mt 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Mt 5:25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
(2) the meaning of true humility; and
Do we even know what humility even means?
Humility is another one of those words that we may think we know the meaning of – but then again, maybe not. After reading the passages – and thinking about what we maybe thought the word meant – how does that compare with what John MacArthur Jr. says in About the Body Dynamic –
Humility is genuine submissiveness that comes from an association with Jesus Christ. A Christian can know a lot of doctrine, memorize Bible verses, be faithful to the church, and be involved in many Christian activities, but not be walking in humility.
Christians introduced the concept of humility to the first–century Greek world. Prior to that time, humility was not considered a virtue. In fact, the early Christians had to coin the word tapeinophrosune, translated “humility,” because it did not appear in classical Greek.
Humility is hard to come by because it begins only when we honestly face ourselves. Bernard said, “Humility is the virtue by which a man becomes conscious of his own unworthiness.” However, many people stroll through life behind a facade of pride because they don’t have the courage to look at themselves and see who they really are—sinners who need Jesus Christ.
If we realize our need for Christ, it will help us live by the divine standard. People may think they rate high, but that’s often when they measure themselves against mediocre standards. For example, when I was in high school football, I received a gold trophy as “player of the year.” But when I got to college, I found there were a lot of other top players. When I went to a pro football training camp, I saw that I was really nothing special by professional standards. In track I was good enough to win ribbons at my school, but when I got into the finals of the county invitational meet, I didn’t win one medal. At that level of competition, the standards were much higher.
A Christian may look outstanding compared to the alcoholic who lives down the street. But godless neighbors are not the believer’s standard; our standard is Jesus Christ. No matter how good we think we are, we fall far short of Jesus’ perfect standard. Such realization moves us toward humility.
God–awareness is another factor in humility. It is vital to realize that if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t exist. Humility is acknowledging that God controls everything. When a person becomes too proud, God often reaffirms His sovereign control in that life and humbles the person.
No matter how good we think we are, we fall far short of Jesus’ perfect standard. Such realization moves us toward humility.
No – but hopefully moving towards it.
(3) whether or not we can “run up a very favourable credit balance” with God?
Seriously? A credit balance?
Jn 3:16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Need I say more?
Add this to everything else above on this question – and one has to ask – “How can I even begin to think I can have a credit balance?”
hitherto — When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided.
up to this time
inveterate — The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants—‘sons’ is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals.
settled or confirmed in a habit or practice, especially a bad one