I place C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, published in 1942, in my personal Top 5 Books list. My copy is well-worn.
Recently in my class, as we talked about Paul’s emphasis on our spiritual growth in Ephesians 4, and Satan’s hope that we will remain “spiritual infants,” I cited The Screwtape Letters. That excerpt I used is printed for you below.
For those unaware, The Screwtape Letters comprises a correspondence between two demons: Uncle Screwtape and his nephew/apprentice, Wormwood.
As I shared with my class, Satan is an opportunist. (“When the devil had finished all this tempting (of Jesus), he left him until the next opportunity came.” – Luke 4:13) And he’ll use every given opportunity to keep us from growing strong in our faith.
He’s clever. (” But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.” – 2 Cor. 11:3) He’s subtle, hoping to appear harmless. (“…for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” – 2 Cor. 11:14)
He prefers to remain clandestine, unnoticeable – at least that’s his goal. He’s the consummate narcissist. But, for the time being, he doesn’t’ like attention. Rather than enjoying a boisterous, grand entrance, he, as in Genesis 3, still chooses to quietly slither into the garden, his hope being that we don’t even notice his arrival into our mind and thoughts.
Back to Uncle Screwtape and his nephew…
Wormwood has been assigned a “patient/assignment” – a man who has never professed his faith in Christ. To Screwtape’s extreme dissatisfaction, Wormwood fails in his effort to keep his patient from coming to faith in Christ.
So, the strategy now changes from prevention of salvation to prevention of the man growing in his newly found Christian faith, keeping him complacent, even apathetic, never knowing how to share his faith, thereby never becoming a threat to the enemy. This is accomplished by making certain he remains biblically illiterate – never really knowing what the Bible actually says so that he never discovers its power.
Satan, who knows the Bible cover to cover, is well acquainted with biblical principles such as that “faith comes from hearing the word of Christ”, and that the Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit,…alive and active”, and that Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” – Rom. 10:17; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Matt. 24:35. Satan also knows he has absolutely no defense against the Word of God. – Matt. 4:1-11
He knows these things. And hates them.
In short, Screwtape’s charge to Wormwood goes something like this:
Do everything in your power to keep your patient occupied with anything other than intimacy with Christ through his Word. Should the man begin to grow in his faith, studying, memorizing, and applying God’s Word, as well as understanding his identity and position in the Almighty Christ, we will flee in terror. I warn you, Wormwood: This must. not. happen.
Below is the excerpt I referenced – advice from a demon. I have offered clarification in parenthesis for better understanding.
My dear Wormwood,
I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command (Satan). Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.
It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out… (the goal is to keep the Word of God out of our minds.)
If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to (focusing on) the Enemy Himself (Jesus Christ) we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves…. (our own agendas, careers, hobbies, interests, sports, etc.)
…You will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep;… You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. (Think: hours of mindless engagement with social media.)
You can make him do nothing at all for long periods.
Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape