The Screwtape Letters opens with C. S. Lewis explaining in the Preface, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” The book is written to provide the reader with a clearer understanding of the spiritual dynamic that is present in the world. Not surprisingly, this is still one of Lewis’ most popular works. Part of the book’s enduring appeal is the fact that it addresses universal issues that every generation has to contend with. Human nature has not changed much over the years and Lewis understood that as well as anyone.
The book is written from the perspective of an older, more experienced demon, Screwtape, to a younger demon, or “tempter,” Wormwood, who is learning the art of tempting humans. In thirty one letters, Screwtape provides Wormwood with sage advice and tips on the art of temptation. Wormwood’s mission is to keep his human away from God. The story is set in London during World War II. All the conversation in the book takes place between the two demons. Wormwood’s human is referred to simply as “The Patient.” God is referred to as “the enemy.” Satan is “Our Father below.” Lewis’ insight into the both human nature and the spiritual realm are what keeps The Screwtape Letters a bestseller in every generation.
Early in the story, Wormwood’s patient converts to Christianity and Screwtape berates him for allowing this to happen. The rest of the book describes Wormwood’s attempts to sabotage the patient’s newfound faith. At one point, Screwtape describes the difference between God’s and Satan’s agendas for mankind: “We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.”
One of the plans that the demons attempt to use to derail the patient’s faith is to attack him in the realm of sex. The plan is to bring a woman with loose morals across his path. Sexual sin is one of the enemy’s most useful weapons to keep people away from God. Screwtape explains that their strategy is to get mankind to use something that God created for good (sex) in a way that God has forbidden. Instead of meeting an immoral woman, however, the patient meets a devoted Christian girl and falls in love with her.
One of the most powerful statements in the entire book comes when the patient experiences a crisis of faith. Wormwood has worked hard to get the patient to doubt his faith and question whether or not God is still there. Screwtape reminds Wormwood, “Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” Even though this statement is found on the lips of a demon, it is one of the best definitions of faith that one will find anywhere.
The book ends with the reader finding out that the patient has been killed in an air raid by the Germans. While this is a terrible tragedy, the bigger tragedy for the demons is that a soul has escaped their grasp and has gone to Heaven. Screwtape lets Wormwood know that he has failed and he will be punished by being consumed by other demons.
As Screwtape wraps up his last letter to Wormwood, he chastises him severely: “Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous? I know what the creature was saying to itself! “Yes. Of course. It always was like this…How could I ever have doubted it?”
The Screwtape Letters is one of the books that every Christian should have on their bookshelf or IPad. It never gets old. The message that Lewis presents here is one that every generation will benefit from.
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