(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. Our goal is to use this classic fiction by C. S. Lewis is to excite the imaginations of our students to help them see the reality of the spiritual warfare that exists in the Christian walk described in Ephesians 6:12: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)." 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.)
asphyxiating: to kill by depriving someone of air.
touchstone: a standard by which something is judged.
palming: to conceal in the hand, usually in order to steal.
irony: to make a point by using the opposite of what you mean.
tedium: boring or lacking any interest.
trumpery: showy but worthless
vermin: wild animals, usually rodents, which are harmful to man.
tripe: literally animal intestines prepared for food, figuratively to signify nonsense or worthless talk.
twopence: a British copper coin of very small value, similiar to a penny.
For quite a number of the previous letters, things have not looked very promising for the new Christian, or the "patient", as Screwtape calls him. It appeares, by Screwtape’s telling, at least, that the demons are making gradual, steady progress, and are very likely to win in the end. Screwtape appears very content to let the situation grind on at a snail’s pace. The best way, in fact, is not to get in a rush and "let sleeping worms lie.", as he says in letter twelve.
Here in letter thirteen, things take a dramatic turn, and Screwtape is not at all happy with his nephew. let’s look at a bit of his opening statement.
The long and the short of it is that you have let the man slip through your fingers. . . .A repentance and renewal of what the other side call "grace" on the scale which you describe is a defeat of the first order. It amounts to a second conversion – and probably on a deeper level than the first.
Obviously this does not square with God’s word. A time of repentance and rewewal, no matter how dramatic, cannot be considered a second conversion, because the God who saves initially also keeps His children from falling away (Romans 8:31-39). I don’t think this is an instance of bad theology on the part of the author; simply a depicting of the bad theology of our tormentor Screwtape.
As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from himself, and had made some progress in doing so. Now, all that is undone.
Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember, always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.
Our God is not an impersonal force in the universe. He cares for what he has created. The Bible tells us that He causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all mankind, even though none of us deserve anything (Matthew 5:45). More than just a general care for His creation, God cares for us individually: Isaiah 40:26, Matthew 6:26, Matthew 10:29-31. God, as He saves us, weans us away from ourselves, giving us the command to be like our Savior (Philippians 2:5-7).
You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the "best" people, the "right" food, the "important" books.
These lines can best be understood in light of peer pressure. Our surroundings, friends, neighbors dictate what is "best" or "right" or "important. We most often get inot trouble when we begin to worry about what others think about our taste in things. Enjoy being who God made you to be, and enjoy the God’s gifts to you and be thankful.
It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster. The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance.
The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
Inactivity is just as useful to the devil as thoughtlessness. Repentance is more than just feeling sorry, it involves a turning away from sin and turning to obedience in God. We are commanded in James to take action with our faith after we hear (James 1:22).