The small group that meets at our house on (most) Tuesday evenings have just finished working discussing “The Screwtape Letters”. I led the sessions, ably assisted by “A companion and study guide to The Screwtape Letters” by William O’Flaherty, (main title: C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell). I am glad he did not call it “To hell with C.S. Lewis”!
Screwtape, the author of the letters and an under-secretary of a department in hell, has his own secretary named “Toadpipe”. The letters are written to a nephew of Screwtape, a devil called “Wormwood”. It is his assignment to raise hell with the “patient”, and unnamed young man and his family, who will be tempted in all kinds of ways.
Other characters in The Letters are Fr. Spike, a minister at one of the churches near the patient, “Glubose”, who is in charge of the patient’s mother, “Scabtree”, who believes that during war is the ideal time to attach the patient’s belief system, “Slubgob”, in charge of the tempters’ training college, “Triptweeze, a demon who looks after a middle-aged couple, and a nameless Vicar. All are a part of Screwtape’s cabal to work on the patient and his friends.
Think of any vice or temptation that has plagued you and it will be on the list that Screwtape and Wormwood have at their disposal: Pride is big, but so is humility; anxiety and complacency form a perfect pair; gluttony is always available; various kinds of doubting prayer work well; distraction and disappointment will keep the patient from reason; fear and hatred are proven victors; and, of course, love and lust are candidates for bending. We could go on, but that is enough to make us shudder at the devil’s resources.
There are, of course, ways that the Enemy of Screwtape and the devils, that is God himself, can overcome these temptations and He is likewise at work with the patient. The patient begins, slowly, to understand who he is and who He is, and this causes the devils no little agitation.
The theme of the story should be familiar to every Christian, but is it? Aren’t we thinking of Satan in terms of caricatures, such as the clever little beast with a pitchfork, horns, tail and red tights, rather than an intelligent charlatan who operates in the world about us? To help us, imagine the following:
Screwtape: My young nephew Blisternose, brother of Wormwood, have a look at that translator who is working with the West Kewa people in Papua New guinea. You know what to do—mess up his work, his family, his friends—make life devilish for him. Report back to me in one month, and I want bad results.
Blisternose: Uncle Screwtape, here is my report, in triplicate, in case one gets lost in the fire. I have concentrated on his view of time and money, the weather, and his family.
Screwtape: I see that you have worked on the radio, the tape recorder, the camera, the small kitchen refrigerator and the motorcycle. That may seem important to you, but only if he becomes so exasperated that he works on the machines himself and ruins them. Don’t let him get help from someone who knows what they are doing and always, always keep his emotions at a high pitch such that he does not enjoy his work. I repeat: he is not to enjoy the translation work that he is doing.
Blisternose: I thought this would distract him long enough that he would fall behind on his work schedule for at least one month. That will exasperate him. I’ll check back later.
Screwtape: My affectionate idiot—your concentration on technology has had the opposite effect than what we want! He is now spending far too much time with the people, tending to their medical needs, talking to them, listening to their stories, and they are beginning to like him. This we cannot tolerate. He must be seen as the ridiculous Western materialist that he and all his colleagues are. Get busy on something else or you will become a machine yourself.
Blisternose: Uncle Screwtape, most devious uncle, I have good news to report: the translator has hepatitis and his wife is pregnant; his children are sick, it rains every day, and he is almost out of money. I can hardly wait to see what happens.
Screwtape: My most loving moron of a nephew, how dare you claim that you did your worst? During his time with hepatitis, our curse of a patient began memorizing stuff from our Enemy’s guidebook, which they call the Bible—we know it as the Babble. Now he repeats that junk endlessly when pain overcomes him, instead of wallowing in self-pity. And his children are praying—the worst kind of action for us because children actually believe that their prayers will be answered. Their parents are less sure and are the ones you should have praying—prattling, we call it. And as far as his wife being pregnant, why is that an accomplishment? It breeds love and affection, two appalling attributes. I have had about enough of you and am sending Nosepick, not to just lend you a hand, but to really blister your nose. You both have one more chance and then it is to the Lake of Fire, where you will guard the simmering atheists.
Nosepick: I regret to inform you, most gracious and deceitful Uncle Screwtape, that Blisternose has taken to more disease and more sickness, thinking this will at last wear down the fortitude and so-called faith of the patient. It has not been my fault—I tried to get him to concentrate on the little things like, no mail, rotten meat, moldy bread, flat tires, and mud, but to no avail. He is convinced that the big trials win in the end.
Screwtape: I am happy to inform you both that this is the end for you—back to Tempter’s College for more devious training. I have had enough of your fiascos.
And so ends Round One of the temptations for our dear translator friends, or so they thought. Unfortunately, Screwtape had some other ideas to pursue and they were all deliciously evil.
[There were further reports from the devils to their crafty, beastly Inferior, old Screwtape. However they were unheeded as the former chief tempter was now confined to bureaucratic deskwork in Hell’s Kitchen. In addition, the reports were without substance and most were thrown into the fire.]