I have been reading this book, CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, for time enough now that I am starting to see some themes repeating across the letters, in a clarifying and prioritizing kind of way. The pattern or reiteration I’m seeing currently is that of the importance of our living in the present. Not the past. Not the future. Our minds should only be set upon the ‘right now’ -- and on eternity. Screwtape says “For the present is the point in which time touches eternity”. Love this!
Why not the past –
Reflecting on the past has limited value. Yes, we can learn from what we’ve experienced and been through, and wonderful memories are stored in our past. Gratitude is past-generated. But, we can get into spiritual trouble when we ‘get stuck’ in the bad things of the past. Not only does this make us miserable and steals our current joy, but – as Screwtape acknowledges – focusing on the past takes our mind away from present and eternal thinking. He states the past is “frozen and no longer flows”. And, who wants to live there?
Why not the future -
If you have been reading along with The Screwtape Letters, you have probably noticed that our anxiety is frequently a point of intrigue for the demons. Anxiety is a uniquely human condition and one in which the enemy capitalizes upon for our destruction at every available chance. Now, we know (although we don’t always remember) that all the worrying in the world has no impact whatsoever on what will or won’t happen in the future. So, worry, from a practical standpoint, is a major waste of our precious time. Spiritually, worrying and being anxious is our telling God, essentially, that we don’t think He can handle the situation - like we’re His equivalent, His backup.
It gets really interesting in this Letter when Screwtape says that “thought about the future inflames fear and hope”. Hang on a minute. What? I get the fear part, but what is wrong with having hope? Well, my interpretation here is that human hope – hope in humanity, hope in my own abilities and strengths, hope as a ‘wish list’ for what I want, hope as any expectation constructed by me – is foolish, at best, and just plain incompatible with faith and trust in God.
One clarification regarding the pitfalls of future thinking: Planning is OK, it is a Godly practice, a “present” activity. Planning is a “duty of today” in preparation for tomorrow’s work (God’s will in motion).
But, in the present –
When we’re in the present, we get to focus on God, on an eternal union with Him. As Screwtape says, in the now, we can find ourselves “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, (and) giving thanks for the present (Godly) pleasure”. There is freedom in the present, as we unplug from both the past and from the future. Screwtape talks about the grace and peace found when, at the end of the day (literally), we can “wash our mind of the whole subject (whatever the day brought), commit the issue to heaven, and return at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over”. What a great daily goal!
Now, this Letter does get a bit ‘uncomfortable’ toward the end. Screwtape refers to the ambiguity of “living in the present” when we can only do it because “our health is good and we are enjoying our work”. Anybody – Believer or not – can float along in a comfy, present-oriented existence when everything is going good and we’ve convinced ourselves that the future is going to be just as “agreeable” as the present. But, what about when it’s not? How do we find (and hold on to) peace in the present when we know full well that the future is not looking good? It is in these times that we should be praying for the Godly “virtues”, those that will sustain us through any pain, any storm. We should continue to concern ourselves only with the present “because there, and there alone, all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell”. I just gotta say it, “The present is a gift”.
One of my favorite scriptures:
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.” John 14:27
P.S. Our pastor said the other day in a sermon that “eternal life starts now”. We tend to think it starts when we die and go to heaven, but it really does start right now, from the minute we accept Jesus as our Savior. How cool is that?!
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