(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.)
exploited: to take full advantage of, but in an unfair, selfish way
innocuous: not harmful; perfectly harmless
drab: dull; lacking any quality to invoke interest
perversions: to alter something from its original meaning or use
concomitants: a phenomenon that naturally accompanies or follows something
anodyne: a pain-killing drug or medicine
expansive: free of speech, very willing to talk openly
redolent: strongly reminiscent or suggestive of something
ardours: enthusiasm or passion; (British spelling)
desponding: to become dejected and lose confidence
acquiesce: to accept something reluctantly but without protest
proposition: a statement or assertion that expresses a judgment or opinion
patronising: to treat someone with kindness, but with an obvious air of superiority
antithesis: a contrast or opposition between two things
adolescent: that age or development between a child and an adult
Last week in letter eight, Screwtape explains and defines the law of undulation. As we look at letter nine today, Screwtape instructs his nephew on techniques to exploit the “Trough” periods that take place in this undulation of the human soul. He begins letter nine by declaring that these low times “provide excellent opportunity for all sensual temptations, particularly those of sex.“; the reasoning being that, first, his powers of resistance are low, and, secondly because his “whole inner world is drab and cold and empty.” This last reasoning implies that man feels that he has a right constantly to be entertained, constantly to be on an adventure. The problem runs much deeper, as we discover later in this letter.
Screwtape makes an interesting observation about human pleasures: “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we, are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground.” Paul tells Timothy that God richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), and so we must realize that this world is not inherently evil. What makes it evil is what sinful mankind does with it, which is usually make the good things in the world to be our gods, which amounts to idolatry.
In addition to a lowered resistance during these low times, Screwtape points out several other avenues of exploitation. They all have their root in the reoccurring theme of keeping the patient from thinking too much: As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. So it doesn’t matter, in the final sense if the low times lead you to despair, or to think that Christianity was just a phase you were going through, or to cause you to accept mediocrity as the norm for living the Christian life. The devil has won the battle from the very start if you fail to use your mind, and the means to grace that involve the mind, such as prayer and meditation and study on the word of God. As is the case in so many of these letters, their aim is to make us use our minds. That is what God’s word is for; to remind us of the promises of God (Acts 2:21, Hebrews 7:25), that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20); of the commands of God, to love Him with all our hearts (Matthew 22:37); to see the story of redemption, especially the price that was paid for our great salvation (Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 2:5-11).