Screwtape Letter #21 – Discussion Guide

Letter #21

Screwtape’s going to change directions now.

My dear Wormwood,

Yes. A period of sexual temptation is an excellent time for working in a subordinate attack on the patient’s peevishness. … The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. … They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. … But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

21.1) Who does our time belong to?

See the story below from Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes.

<It’s not necessary to read the entire story in the class – but it’s funny & almost all too true>

“But There Were Interruptions!”

And the Lord spoke to Noah and said: “In six months I’m going to make it rain until the whole earth is covered with water and all the evil people are destroyed. But, I want to save a few good people, and two of every kind of living thing on the earth. I am ordering you to build an Ark.” And in a flash of lightning he delivered the specifications for an Ark.

“Ok,” said Noah, trembling in fear and fumbling with the blueprints.

“Six months, and it starts to rain,” thundered the Lord. “You’d better have my Ark completed, or learn to swim for a very long time.”

Six months passed. The skies began to cloud up and rain began to fall. The Lord saw Noah was sitting in his front yard weeping, and there was no Ark.

“Noah,” shouted the Lord, “Where is my Ark?” A lightning bolt crashed into the ground next to Noah.

“Lord, please forgive me!” begged Noah. “I did my best, but there were interruptions!”

“First I had to get a building permit for the Ark construction project, and your plans did not meet code. So I had to hire an engineer to redraw the plans. Then I got into a big fight over whether or not the Ark needed a fire sprinkler system. My neighbors objected, claiming I was violating zoning by building the Ark in my front yard, so I had to get a variance from the city planning commission.

“Then I had a big problem getting enough wood for the Ark because there was a ban on cutting the trees, to save the Spotted Owl. I had to convince the U.S. Forest Service that I needed the wood to save the owls. But, they wouldn’t let me catch any owls. So no owls. Then the carpenters formed a union and went out on strike. I had to negotiate a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board before anyone would pick up a saw or hammer. Now we have sixteen carpenters going on the boat and still no owls.

“Then I started gathering the animals, and got sued by an animal rights group. They objected to me taking only two of each kind. Just when I got the suit dismissed, EPA notified me that I couldn’t complete the Ark without filing an environmental impact statement on your proposed flood. They didn’t take kindly to the idea that they had no jurisdiction over the conduct of a Supreme Being. Then the Army Corps of Engineers wanted a map of the proposed new flood plain. I sent them a globe.

“Right now I’m still trying to resolve a complaint from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over how many Croatians I’m supposed to hire. The IRS has seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to avoid paying taxes by leaving the country, and I just got a notice from the state about owing some kind of use tax.

“I really don’t think I can finish your Ark for at least another five years,” Noah wailed.

The sky began to clear. The sun began to shine. A rainbow arched across the sky. Noah looked up and smiled. “You mean you’re not going to destroy the earth?” Noah asked hopefully.

“No” said the Lord sadly, “The government already has.…”  1)Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (475–476). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

What does this tell us about these unplanned intrusions on our time and the consequences of not handling them well?





Are interruptions always a problem? Or maybe something else?

You have here a delicate task. … When I speak of preserving this assumption in his mind, therefore, the last thing I mean you to do is to furnish him with arguments in its defence. There aren’t any. … Wrap a darkness about it, and in the centre of that darkness let his sense of ownership-in-Time lie silent, uninspected, and operative.

21.2) Screwtape’s now going to say that what seemed so easy, is now not so easy.

It seems like we never have enough time. I certainly feel that way. And yet – is this right?

Ps 31:14 But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”

Ps 31:15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from my enemies
and from those who pursue me.

Ps 31:16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.

Ps 31:17 Let me not be put to shame, O LORD,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and lie silent in the grave.

Ps 31:18 Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

If we believe what David wrote – how should we really feel about this lack of time and the intrusions on what we perceive as too little time in the first place?





Maybe sometimes interruptions should be avoided?

The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. … Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my teddy bear’ not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation (for that is what the Enemy will teach them to mean if we are not careful) but ‘the bear I can pull to pieces if I like’. And at the other end of the scale, we have taught men to say ‘my God’ in a sense not really very different from ‘my boots’, meaning ‘the God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit—the God I have done a corner in’.

21.3a) Screwtape now moves from time to the ownership of physical things.

How does Screwtape manage to get from ownership of a shoe to ownership of a teddy bear to essentially ownership of God?





Screwtape himself gave us the answer to this one

21.3b) Is this sense of ownership equally funny in both Heaven and Hell? Or do you think God looks at it differently?





Jesus' temptation tell us of how He views ownership

Or –

See The Beatitudes

And so – 

The conclusion is ...

And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. … Our Father hopes in the end to say ‘Mine’ of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest,

Your affectionate uncle


21.4) We get to the heart of the matter here: will everything go to The Enemy or to Screwtape’s Father Below? Will ownership be determined by Who made everything – or by conquest?

Some interesting concepts are in here too:

•Screwtape says his Father Below “hopes” to claim victory in the end. How does this differ from our hope.

•Screwtape’s Father Below also looks at his expected conquests as more realistic than The Enemy’s claims as Creator. Ultimately, who will decide what happens to (a) everything except people and (b) each individual person?





Screwtape's words
God's Word

So there’s plenty of surprises to go around.




Series Navigation<< Screwtape Letter #21 – QuestionsScrewtape Letter #22 – Questions >>

References   [ + ]

1. Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (475–476). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
2. Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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