Screwtape Letter #6 – Discussion Guide


This entry is part 15 of 65 in the series Screwtape Letters

Letter #6

Screwtape recognizes something –

the greatest fear we humans have is –

fear.


 

My dear Wormwood,
I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

6.1) Wait a minute here. Wasn’t it just in the last letter that Screwtape wrote –

Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared.

So why is it that now – in the very next letter – Screwtape is delighted to hear that the patient may be called up to war? What’s different now? The circumstances? The plan of attack?

 

One big difference is the circumstances - which leads to a different plan of attack.

 

         

 

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense. … resignation to present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is easier and is usually helped by this direct action.

An important spiritual law is here involved. I have explained that you can weaken his prayers by diverting his attention from the Enemy Himself to his own states of mind about the Enemy. … Contrariwise let the reflection ‘My feelings are now growing more devout, or more charitable’ so fix his attention inward that he no longer looks beyond himself to see our Enemy or his own neighbours.

6.2) An allusion is a reference to a famous historical or literary figure or an event, making a comparison or contrast between that and something in the story, generally to add a deeper level of association or understanding. In Letter 6, Screwtape tells Wormwood to get his patient to regard fears of imagined or possible things as his “crosses,” but not to regard current fear of real things as his “appointed cross.”

To what does this allusion refer?

What do people generally mean when they use this allusion?

Read Mark 8:34—9:1. Is there a difference between Jesus’s statement and the common meaning to one’s “cross”?

Jesus Predicts His Death

Mk 8:31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Mk 8:33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Mk 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mk 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

 

The cross allusion could come from something as simple as the practice in Roman times of making the convicted person literally carry the cross they were going to die on – all the way to the point where the execution was to take place.

It may come from Jesus’ statements above – especially in Mark 8:34-37. Here – Jesus is talking about someone giving up their own will / desires and maybe even their life – all for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. It’s about putting God’s priorities above all else.

Another way to look at those verses comes from The Turning Point - The Goal of Discipleship -
The reference in that quote is to Chapter 9, Verse 23 with the wording that Luke used -

The bottom line is that “our cross” refers to different things for different people.

It also means different things at different times to the same person.

It’s not a one size fits all kind of thing for us. However – for Satan – the only thing he needs to do is keep us from taking it up at all – possibly by having us not recognize what our cross is at any point if time. As Luke says – we should do it daily. Too along away from the practice will make it that much harder to start again.

 

         

 

As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. … The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.

6.3) In Letter 6, Screwtape tells Wormwood that hatred of the Germans may not be useful in winning the patient away from God. What is his reasoning? Do you agree? Are prejudice or stereotypes similar to the situation described? Have you ever had an experience similar to what Screwtape says English “milksops” experience when they meet real German pilots? If so, how were you changed as a result?

 

The issue for Screwtape here is the difference between anger against a theoretical / imaginary / anticipated enemy versus what happens when one comes face to face with an enemy – and that enemy all of a sudden isn’t make believe or imagined – but is a real live person.

In a way – it’s like a cross between two of the parables – The Two Sons and The Good Samaritan.

The Parable of the Two Sons
The Parable of the Good Samaritan

It’s the same with the English people. They should have been the ones to kill the Germans on sight. But even Screwtape knows they’re more likely to take them in and take care of them.

Neither of these activities – working in the field and helping people who want to kill them – is going to get people to their Father Below’s house.

 

 

         

 

Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. …  All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from Our Father’s house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there.

Your affectionate uncle

SCREWTAPE

6.4) What does Screwtape mean when he says

All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from Our Father’s house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there.

While thinking about your response – remember – although he may not understand it – Satan (and Screwtape) know Scripture.

 

In the end – there will be many surprised people. There will be many who expect to be in Heaven – bit won’t be.

For instance - see Matthew 23:13-15 -
And in Matthew 25:41-46 we read -

Here we have ordinary people – some who don’t expect to be in Heaven – but they are. But we also have another case of those who feel that where they should be – but won’t be.

What Screwtape is saying is that the group who fully expect to be in Heaven – and especially those who feel entitled to be in Heaven – are the most fun for the devils when they finally realize that they are in the house of the “father below”.

 

 

         

 

Vocabulary:

tribulation — Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense.

grievous trouble; severe trial or suffering

Contrariwise — Contrariwise let the reflection ‘My feelings are now growing more devout, or more charitable’ so fix his attention inward that he no longer looks beyond himself to see our Enemy or his own neighbours.

on the contrary; in direct opposition to a statement, attitude, etc.

vindictive — In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes.

disposed or inclined to revenge; vengeful

milksops — The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.

a weak or ineffectual person

pernicious — There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train.

deadly; fatal

 

 

 

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