Screwtape Letter #5 – Discussion Guide

Letter #5

Screwtape is unhappy –

again –

this time about Wormwood.


My dear Wormwood,

It is a little bit disappointing to expect a detailed report on your work and to receive instead such a vague rhapsody as your last letter. … But do remember, Wormwood, that duty comes before pleasure. … Give me without fail in your next letter a full account of the patient’s reactions to the war, so that we can consider whether you are likely to do more good by making him an extreme patriot or an ardent pacifist. There are all sorts of possibilities. In the meantime, I must warn you not to hope too much from a war.

5.1) Screwtape is mocking Wormwood’s excitement about the war – and warning him not to expect too much from it. Why would Screwtape not be pleased that the patient is about to have to deal with the fear that comes from being in a war zone?


The problem here is that while the initial reaction to war would naturally be fear – it can lead to something else entirely.
One example can be seen in Psalm 27 –

Psalms 27





Or –


look at what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians –


2 Corinthians

When we need comfort or relief from stress that’s so bad we can’t cope with it – God will give us enough relief to not only comfort us – but that we can, in turn, comfort others as well.





Matthew 24





So – the thing here is that Screwtape doesn’t believe the war, in itself, will aid Wormwood in bringing the patient to their Father Below (Satan). It all depends on how Wormwood makes use of the war and his patient’s circumstances in it.

Also if interest in this letter – Screwtape is actually mocking Wormwood – and then proceeds to threaten him –

But do remember, Wormwood, that duty comes before pleasure. If any present self-indulgence on your part leads to the ultimate loss of the prey, you will be left eternally thirsting for that draught of which you are now so much enjoying your first sip.

If the patient doesn’t come over to the Father Below – it’s clearly Wormwood’s fault – and he will pay for it. Seems like one mistake and he’s “toast”.





Contrast this with Jesus command to His disciples in Matthew 10 –

Matthew 10







Of course a war is entertaining. The immediate fear and suffering of the humans is a legitimate and pleasing refreshment for our myriads of toiling workers. … Let us therefore think rather how to use, than how to enjoy, this European war.

5.2) Read what Jesus says in Matthew 26:26-30 and also in John 6:27-59. How does Screwtape’s talk of a banquet differ from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper?

Matthew 26:26-30





John 6:27-59





On one level – there’s the difference in who eats what.

Screwtape talks about an environment where the devils get to eat their patients who have been successfully turned to the Father Below. Losing them is like getting to taste the first course of the banquet – and them having the rest taken away.

On the other hand – Jesus offers the bread and wine as a representation of His body and blood – with the command to eat and drink his flesh and blood (through the bread and wine).

On a higher level – there’s the difference in the outcome.

In the previous paragraph – Screwtape told Wormwood that if he failed – Wormwood would be eternally thirsting for what he had a small taste of in the initial successes.

Jesus tells us that – in spite of our failures – if we eat His flesh and drink His blood – if we accept Him as our Lord and Savior – we will be eternally dwelling with him and never be thirsty or hungry again.







For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, … One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

5.3) Screwtape says that during wartime, not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever. Look at Genesis 3:17-19 – Job 14:1-6 – Psalms 89:46-48 – Psalms 144:3-4 and 1 Peter 1:22-25. Compare what Screwtape says to what these verses from the Bible tell us.


Genesis 3:17-19





Job 14:1-6





Psalms 89:46-48





Psalms 144:1-3





1 Peter 1:22;25

In the Old Testament verses – life was seen as fleeting and temporary – ever since the incident in the Garden of Eden when God cursed what Adam & Eve did and told them

for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

Then – in Job – in the midst of all of his problems tell God –

Man’s days are determined;
you have decreed the number of his months
and have set limits he cannot exceed.

In Psalm 89 we see more of the same –

What man can live and not see death,
or save himself from the power of the grave ?

In Psalm 143 we see a glimmer of hope appearing. Even though the psalmist says that mans days are like a fleeting shadow – he still recognizes that there must be something special about humans in God’s eyes –

O LORD, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him?

But – in the New Testament – after Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and Ascension to Heaven – the outlook is entirely different –

1Pe 1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
1Pe 1:25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

As initially born – people are temporary –
like the flowers and the grass – they will wither and die.

But – after Jesus – The Word –
we – like The Word –
can stand forever with Him is us.

If we live in contented worldliness –
if we don’t realize that we can have eternal life –
then one can die in a war and become a victim of Wormwood and Screwtape.

The thing that Screwtape realizes is that a war can very likely keep us from having that contented worldliness –
and drive us straight to God.








I know that Scabtree and others have seen in wars a great opportunity for attacks on faith, but I think that view was exaggerated. … But even then, if he applies to Enemy headquarters, I have found that the post is nearly always defended,

Your affectionate uncle


5.4) Screwtape says God has plainly told us that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption. What instances from the Bible have told us this?

There are many such references in the Bible – are just a few of them –

Blessings and Woes

The World Hates the Disciples

Peace and Joy







rhapsody — It is a little bit disappointing to expect a detailed report on your work and to receive instead such a vague rhapsody as your last letter.

an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation (made up on the fly / with no preparation).

Note – it’s the lack of thought that Wormwood put into the letter that Screwtape is disappointed about. In this case, the music part of the definition doesn’t apply.


temporal — When I see the temporal suffering of humans who finally escape us, I feel as if I had been allowed to taste the first course of a rich banquet and then denied the rest.

enduring for a time only; temporary; transitory ( opposed to eternal).


sophistical — He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally false method of reasoning.




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