This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 25-28 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
Letter 27 – Prayer
In this letter, Screwtape gives Wormwood instruction on how to interfere with the Patient’s prayer life. First, Wormwood should insure that there are distractions to the Patient’s prayers. Second, Wormwood should cause doubt as to the efficacy of the Patient’s petitionary prayers. In other words, Wormwood should cause the Patient to believe that praying for something is “absurd and can have no objective result.” Screwtape admits that within the Christian tradition there are those thinkers that have answered the questions about prayer that the Patient will ask. However, as Screwtape explains, no one reads these thinkers anymore and those that do, only read them from a historical point of view and not as someone who could impart actual wisdom.
This letter does raise common issues concerning Prayer. First, distractions during prayer are not simply a product of the modern age or ordinary Christians. The Desert Fathers, who are monks living in North Africa in the early centuries of the church, speak about distractions during prayer. In his book, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis, a 15th-century monk, confesses that he “is usually beset by many distractions” during prayer. Distractions are simply to be expected. The means to move beyond the distractions range from saying a short centering prayer such as “Lord have Mercy” or using the liturgy or the psalms, or various other means. Therefore, think about how you overcome distractions during prayer.
The efficacy of prayer is one of the mysteries of the church. Immediately before giving his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matt. 6:7-8. If God knows what you want before you ask it, then why do you need to make the request?
Screwtape mentions Boethius (d.524) as an example of a Christian philosopher who has thought deeply about this mystery. Boethius’ wrote his work, The Consolation of Philosophy, while awaiting his execution by Theodric the Great, the Ostrogothic king who deposed Odoacer, the last Roman Emperor in the West. It is in the conclusion to his work (Bk 5, ch VI, p.68) that Boethius resolves this issue of God’s foreknowledge and our free will. Essentially, Boethius says that because God dwells in the eternal present, our future is his present, and therefore he does not have foreknowledge of the future per se, but simply knowledge of the ever-present which does encompass our future. Although we have the free will to make choices, including prayers to God, God knows what choices we will make. If you have time, please read Boethius’ argument.
God is ever the constant foreknowing overseer, and the ever-present eternity of His sight moves in harmony with the future nature of our actions, as it dispenses rewards to the good, and punishments to the bad. Hopes are not vainly put in God, nor prayers in vain offered: if these are right, they cannot but be answered.Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
Letter 28 – Perseverance
In this letter, Screwtape expresses his disappointment that Wormwood has allowed the Patient to progress in his faith. Because the Patient is in such a state of grace, Wormwood should do everything possible to keep the Patient alive. The longer a person lives, Screwtape teaches, the more a person becomes attached to this world. A strong faith today may grow weak with time, and Wormwood needs to buy time to pull the Patient away from the Enemy. Whether in middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity, Wormwood will have future opportunities to prevail.
We should all identify with this letter. I am certain that each of us, as we have grown older, grow more attached to the things of this world. Think about the story of Jesus and the Rich Man. (Mark 10:17-22). It is difficult, in not impossible (Mark 10:27) for us to voluntarily give up the things of this world which weigh us down. However, it is through a mere Christianity and a life of Charity and Prayer that we can Persevere in our faith.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 1 Timothy 4:7-8
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.