Let's start here with just a quick re-visit of who I am and what this blog is about, as I think it can be relevant to my study and commentary of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters: I am a regular person, living a regular life, working every day to live out my Christian faith as best I can. And I have taken on the reading of TheLetters in the same way. I know I won't (probably can't) understand everything in this book, but I know that God uses anything, all things - in this case, literature - to speak to me, and I am listening. I purposely have not read any other scholarly commentary on The Screwtape Letters in preparation for this 'book study', as I do not want anybody other than God telling me what these writings mean for me in my Christian walk. Am I going to miss some key points in this work? Yep. Are other readers going to have different insights than me? Yep. Ok, now that I've cleared that up, let's move on.....
Letter 7 In this Letter, the demons seem quite pleased with the fact that many of us don't believe in their existence. Obviously, if something is not considered 'real', then it's not given any amount of our attention. This working incognito is a great model for the demons, although they can't seem to decide whether it works best when we do believe in them, or when we don't. Apparently there are advantages (for them) in both, and they are constantly working to perfect both approaches. The best scenario, according to Screwtape, would be for the human to exist as a "Materialist Magician". What the heck does that mean? Well, here's my best, 2-part interpretation of that title: First, "Materialist". This describes those who need something 'material', something tangible, in order to believe anything. Those people who are all about, and only about, "science". (BTW There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of science as long as the Creator of all science is acknowledged to be God). I thought it was cool when Screwtape says that as long as we (humans) limit our conceptualization of the devil to a skinny cartoon character with horns in a red leotard, they're safe. Ok, now, "Magician". This refers to those who are all into spirits, ghosts, zombies, UFO's, cable television - in other words, they are enamored with "magic" solely as a source of entertainment (I'm sorry, I just have to add here: The "magic" folks believe it's totally plausible for little green men from another planet to invade the earth, but the 'delusional' concept that the Son of God came to earth to die for our sins is just too crazy for them to believe! Huh?) So, basically, if you're both 'material' and 'magic', you're golden as far as the demons are concerned, as you are oblivious to the real-deal, real-time battle going on for your soul. Interestingly, then Lewis talks about the evil payoffs gained when, as believers (in God and demons), we engage in "extreme devotion". This is when we practice "profound dedication" (thank you, Webster) to any one person, group (yes, even church), or "cause" (yes, even religion) other than God himself. To do so breeds in us hatred, pride, "mutual admiration" (I love that one), cliques, -- pretty much all the things churches have been accused of being (and sometimes rightly so). I love how Lewis says that in extreme devotion "The Cause" becomes our "sponsor" and "meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades" matter more to us than "prayers and sacraments and charity". Now, there's an "ouch".
Letter 8 Screwtape begins this Letter by clarifying for Wormwood the human state of constant and continual "undulation". He first describes humans as "half spirit and "half animal", in that "as spirits they (we) belong to the eternal world, but as animals they (we) inhabit time". And, while our spirit can be directed to an "eternal object" (God), our "bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change". As we seek some level of equilibrium or constancy in life, we "undulate", described by Lewis as a "repeated return to a level from which they (we) repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks". In life, we experience "periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness (aka blessings) that alternate with periods of numbness and poverty". Certainly, we are most vulnerable to the influences of our enemy when we are in the 'troughs' (although, that's not to say that when we're spiritually 'high' we are not vulnerable, as well). In a merciful turn of irony, we allow God to do some of His best work in us when we're in a trough. Screwtape suggests that prayers "offered in the state of dryness" are the ones that please God the most. I am totally on board with this idea, but I am honest enough to ask how many of us ever beg God to put us in a 'trough' so that we can grow nearer to Him?
In Letter 8, Screwtape compares the model of God's desire for possessing our "soul" to that of the demons who simultaneously attempting to do the same. It comes down to how each views our will. Demons aspire to absorb our will into theirs as "food" to their own self-appetite. God, on the other hand, desires for our will to "freely conform to His" in response to His love. As Lewis beautifully compares (and I paraphrase):
The Devil considers us "cattle who can become food"; God wants "servants who can finally become sons" The Enemy wants to "suck in"; God wants to "give out" Demons are empty and want to be filled; God is "full and flows over"