This week, we are concluding our reading of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters with letters 29-31.
Letter 29 – Courage
This letter opens with Screwtape’s contemplation of whether, in light of the War, Wormwood should make the Patient a coward, pridefully courageous, or hateful. Screwtape writes that hatred is the most powerful of vices, particularly when combined with fear. A person will feed off of his hatred. When that same person is frightened, he will “reimburse himself for the miseries of Fear” through this hatred.
Screwtape is mindful that Jesus teaches that we should love our enemies, forgive all who wrong us, and not be angry. (Matthew 5-6). For Screwtape, the easy way around Jesus’ injunction is that people need to be taught that these commandments are only applicable to a person’s personal enemies and not the enemies of others. A man must forgive his enemies, but not those of his wife and children. It is ok for their enemies to be the object of his hatred.
Screwtape goes on to discuss the relative benefits and detriments of cowardice. With cowardice, no other virtues are dangerous to the demon’s assignment. As he points out, Pilate was merciful until mercy became risky. Matthew 27:24. The problem with cowardice, however, is that no one is proud of being a coward. People are can become proud of other vices, but never this one. Therefore, if the Patient perceives himself a coward, he may learn too much about himself and turn to repentance and humility. The key, according to Screwtape, is to make the Patient act in a cowardly manner without becoming a coward.
In reading through this chapter, think about your own anger. Most of us probably find it easier to forgive someone who has wronged us personally, than someone who has wronged someone that we love. It is also easier to forgive a person than a people group – be they Germans, or Communists, or Muslims, or Chinese. At least for me, there is a certain energy that comes from hating someone else, which is why scapegoating works so well in politics. Therefore, think about the excuses that we make so in order to make the hatred of someone else acceptable.
Lewis’s discussion of courage comes from a Winston Churchill quote that “courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others.” The primary difference between the Samaritan and the others was that he had the courage to stop and help. Think about the three spiritual virtues of faith, hope, and love and the role that courage plays in making those virtues real.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7
Letter 30 – Endurance
The context of this letter is the continued air raids over London. As feared by Screwtape in the prior letter, the Patient has experienced fear and cowardice. This experience has humbled the Patient, yet also fortified his sense of duty. Screwtape understands that they are losing the battle for the Patient’s soul.
As a last assault on the Patient, Screwtape instructs Wormwood on the beneficial use of fatigue. Although the Patient is firmly in the Enemy (God)’s camp as a result of adversity, nonetheless the continuation of the adversity can work in the demon’s favor. Fatigue can lead to “anger, malice, and impatience” particularly when it produces “unexpected demands on a man already tired.” Wormwood must give the Patient a false hope that all of this will soon pass, and hasten the coming of fatigue and despair.
The final means of attack advocated by Screwtape is to have the Patient conclude that the observable physical world is the only reality that exists, and that the moral and spiritual realm is merely a subjective product of the physical. Wormwood can expand this idea by making the Patient believe that all experiences which corrupt and discourage the spiritual are real and those that build up the spiritual are merely subjective. Hatred and pain are real, beauty and love are merely subjective. By this means of attack, the Patient will come to see the death as real and “God” as not.
We have all been where Screwtape wants to take us. We have all experienced being in difficult situations and having a strong knowledge that we can endure. We have all seen that endurance wane as the difficulty continues to grind on and the end never seems to come. It is in these moments when endurance wanes and fatigue sets in that we begin to despair. The only reality we can see is the negative. Hatred, disappointment, anxiety, and general malaise are real, everything else – particularly faith, hope, and love – is fleeting and ephemeral. This is the demonic attack that Lewis describes. The defense to such as an attack, as Paul tells us, is to always keep our minds on that which is Real. See, Phil 4:8-9, Rom. 5:1-4, 2 Cor. 16:18
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be amongst you, and remain with you always.1979 BCP 339
Letter 31 – Conclusion
In this letter, the Patient has died and the demons have lost (at least temporarily Screwtape assumes). Screwtape laments that death came quickly to the Patient. Although the Patient suffered some pain and fear from the explosive that killed him, it lasted only a moment. Death, as Screwtape describes it, generally happens in the same way – a nightmare followed by an awakening that moves beyond all death. At that moment when the Patient moves through death, he finally sees all of Reality – Wormwood, the angels, and God.
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.1 Corinthians 15:51-53
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.