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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
2.5.2) According to him, why does God allow Christians to go through such experiences?
2.5.3) Have you faced these experiences in your own spiritual life? What has resulted?
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; Psalm 19:12; Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 17:9; Luke 18:9—14; Romans 3:19. How do these passages speak to the issues of
(1) our ability to know fully the extent of our sin;
(2) the meaning of true humility; and
(3) whether or not we can “run up a very favourable credit balance” with God?
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