This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 17-20 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
Letter 19 – God’s Love?:
In this letter, Screwtape backtracks on his previous statement that the Enemy (God) actually loves human beings. He relates the story that their Father Below voluntarily removed himself from the Enemy’s presence because the Enemy refused to tell their Father his true motivation. Screwtape says that the Enemy is lying about his disinterested love of humanity. Screwtape goes on to write that the angels tell the demons that if only the demons understand what the Enemy truly means by love, the war between Heaven and Hell would cease and the demons would re-enter the heavenly realm.
Screwtape also addresses Wormwood’s question of whether the Patient “being in love” is advantageous or not. Screwtape writes that the Patient’s state of mind or emotional state is neither good nor bad but merely represents the raw material over which the Enemy and they are both trying to exploit for their own advantage. The only question is whether Wormwood can use the Patient’s current state to draw him away from the Enemy.
Screwtape’s questioning of God’s love is not unique to the demons. Growing up in the church and at youth camps, God was often presented as a vengeful entity who sought to send people to hell because they had a mistaken belief or somehow misbehaved. The only way to keep God’s destroying anger at bay (both in this life and in the hereafter) was to continuously be on your best behavior or have a terror-filled acceptance of certain factual statements. The angels quoted by Screwtape, however, are right – if we truly understood God’s love, then the fear would cease.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive . . . [and] God may be all in all.1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 28b
Letter 20 – Limitations of Lust:
The letter opens with Screwtape chastising Wormwood for using lust too many times. The Patient has realized that lust is temporary, and therefore lust is less useful as a temptation to draw the Patient away from the enemy.
Screwtape goes on to write about sexual “tastes.” The idea is that every generation has a particular type of the opposite sex that is considered ideal. This has two effects. First, this “ideal” causes the Patient to look for a woman who fits this physical ideal to the detriment of all other characteristics. He should want the right-looking woman regardless of her other attributes. This ideal, however, also causes the women of the generation to mold themselves to fit the ideal. All of this serves to produce unhappiness, and most importantly, to draw everyone away from the Enemy and his goals for human flourishing.
This letter builds on the prior two letter’s lesson that sexual attraction is not good or bad, in and of itself, but how it can be exploited. As discussed in letter 18, the line between attraction, affection, and the multiple uses of the word “love” is impossible to sort out. The goal of the demons is to take this situation and mold it and use it to draw us away from God. Instead of sexual attraction being the building block of a deeper more intimate relationship that comes to mirror God’s relationship with humanity, it simply becomes its own end.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.1 Corinthians 6:19-20
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 6:45.