(Editor’s note: These posts on the Screwtape Letters are the result of the high-school Sunday school class that my wife and I teach at Trinity Baptist church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If any of this material would be useful to anyone for a similar purpose, please feel free to use it, modifying it in any way you feel necessary. If you have any suggestions, comments, or observations, I invite you to please post them here. This is a work in progress, looking for any honest and sincere help you might offer.)
tribulation: great trouble or suffering
fortitude: courage in the presence of tribulation
hypothetical: something not necessarily true or real
periodicals: a magazine or newspaper published weekly or monthly
vindictive: having or showing a strong unreasoning desire for revenge
milksops: someone laking courage or decisiveness
benevolence: showing kindness or helping someone in need
circumference: the edge of or distance around something, usually a circle
pernicious: having a harmful effect in a gradual or subtle way
concentric: two or more circles, of different sizes with all sharing the same center
We turn again to issues of faith, fear, and doubt in letter 6 of The Screwtape Letters,which were begun in letter 5. We conclude the letter on the subject of loving one’s neighbors and enemies.
The use of the word cross in the first part of this letter employs a device known as allusion, in which a well-known literary or historical event, person, or object is used to draw comparisons or contrasts to something in the story. In this letter, Screwtape uses cross to refer to those things that make our lives uncomfortable, or worry us. In history, the cross was that instrument on which the Romans put Jesus to death. It was the electric chair, or the gallows of his day. Notice in Mark 8:34-36 that even before He was crucified on a cross, Jesus referred to his disciples taking up their crosses.
And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, â€œIf anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospelâ€™s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? (Mark 8:34-37, ESV)
Note the different ways the word cross can be used, in Jesus’ execution, in Jesus’ teaching, in our common use every day. In this last usage we should be careful not to trivialize its meaning.
Fear of the present is no sin, but to fear the multitude of possible happenings off in the future is. Screwtape points out the fact that Wormwood needs to work on the patients forgetting the fact that all of his fears cannot possibly happen, since they are incompatible. Remember from last week’s lesson the verse emphasizing God’s concern for the well being of His children.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6, ESV)
Screwtape wraps up his letter to his nephew by giving him good advice concerning hatred. Hatred for the Germans, whom the British were presently at war with, was no real big deal, since they were mostly far away. Screwtape advises Wormwood to direct the patient’s malice toward those near to him, and his benevolence toward those who are far away. This brings to mind how Jesus responded to the lawyer in Luke 10:29, who asked “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ reply within the story of the good Samaritan basically was anybody whom you happen to come across is your neighbor, whether he be a family member, a close friend, or a dreaded foe.