This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 13-16 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
Letter 15 – The Present:
In this letter, Screwtape instructs his nephew on the differences between the past, the present, the future, and the eternal. According to Screwtape, it is only in the Present where Eternity breaks through. Therefore, the Enemy (God) wants humans to live in the present moment so that they may experience Eternity.
Alternatively, the future is not real. It is the ultimate unreality. If humans can be made to live in this unreality, they will never know the true Reality. Additionally, the future is where all sin arises. “Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” Living in the future distorts the Present so that Eternity is lost.
As you read through the letter, think about how our modern society forever keeps us living in the future. How does our concern for the future, prevent us from the important things of the present? Lewis says that planning for the future is today’s duty and therefore belongs to the present – is this true or simply straw-splitting?
We can only meet God in the present moment. This is an area where God chooses to place limits on His own power. We choose whether or not to live in the present moment. Because we can encounter God only in that present moment, whenever we live in the past or in the future, we place ourselves beyond His reach.Archimandrite Meletios Webber
Letter 16 – Church Shopping:
In this letter, Screwtape writes about the benefits of the Patient having a consumerist mindset about churches. Having the Patient stay at one church is quite dangerous. Screwtape gives his approval to the “congregational principle” of choosing a church where every person simply chooses the church that suits them best. In this setting, the Patient becomes a critic, not a pupil. In a way, the Patient lives in the future of finding the perfect church.
The alternative, which Screwtape warns Wormwood about, is the “parochial organization” where the Patient simply attends the local church. The detriment in this system, from Screwtape’s point of view, is that the Patient does not waste time in thinking about what he rejects, but lays himself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to spiritual nourishment. He is simply there in the present.
Screwtape goes on to comment just how fun it is for the demons to work up hatred among different church factions, particularly on the finer points of theology that no one can actually adequately articulate. The greater pleasure, as Screwtape explains, is that the apostle Paul extensively addresses factionalism in the church and how that should be handled with great humility by all. But, of course, Paul’s teachings are quickly forgotten.
Lewis wrote his book in the 1940s. The issue that he writes about here has taken over Christianity, at least in the English-speaking world. I’m not certain that there are many churches in America today that are not run on the “congregationalist principle” of a consumerist Christianity. But the question presented to us, particularly in a liturgical tradition, is whether or not we must change to fit this consumerist mindset.
For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.Romans 14:17-19
We are back in person for our studies. If you are planning to join us, please let us know. Dinner is at 6:00 with the discussion at 7:00.