“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight (From the Preface of The Screwtape Letters).”
To catch an early glimpse of the sharp insight and satirical wit that is on full display in C.S. Lewis’ classic work, The Screwtape Letters, one need look no further than the second paragraph of the authors Preface. The excerpt above provides an incisive, cautionary backdrop for the journey that follows.
Written in the form of short letters, each chapter transports the reader into the clever and utterly diabolical mind of a senior devil named Screwtape as he seeks to counsel his apprentice-nephew, Wormwood, in the nuanced intricacies of tempting humans – or “patients” as Screwtape calls them. Wormwood is assigned to a particular “patient” – a young Englishman living out a seemingly normal life in Great Britain during the 1930s and 1940s. Each letter from the “wise” and experienced Uncle Screwtape creates a window into this young man’s everyday experience as he becomes a Christian, struggles to grow in his new faith, deals with family relationships, falls in love, serves in the military during the great war, and ultimately matures to a point where Wormwood’s influence is inconsequential at best. The path for this young man is filled with a wide range of delectable opportunities for Wormwood to skillfully enact his Uncle Screwtape’s directives, which are ultimately aimed at keeping “the patient” away from, and of no use to “the Enemy” – which is of course God Himself.
In classic fashion, C.S. Lewis blends a brilliant use of satirical fiction with sheer reason and spiritual insight to create a world in which the daily struggle “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)” becomes more tangible, without appearing mystical or cartoonish. In so doing, the reader is granted what seems like covert access to highly classified demonic operational documents that, once thoughtfully analyzed and understood, could truly produce a formidable safeguard against the common errors in thinking about the existence of devils and their crafty methods of deceit.
It should come as no surprise that deception is the consummate name of the game for Screwtape and Wormwood. That is, after all, the essential essence of all Satanic activity. In one of the most piercing and heated confrontations with the religious leaders of His day, Jesus describes the devil as, “a murderer from the beginning, [who] does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).” Clearly, this passage was in the mind of Lewis when he wisely warned the readers, “to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle (From the Preface of The Screwtape Letters).”
I recommend that you pick up a copy of The Screwtape Letters and give it a read. You should know, however, that you will be entering a world of comical, ingenious, and diabolical deception. While this foray into the intellectual underworld might reveal to you possible demonic strategies that make you more astute in recognizing and resisting temptation, don’t be surprised if you see yourself in ways that you did not expect and may not like. You might even be compelled, at times, to ask yourself whose side you are really on. Since self-examination can be a healthy, biblical exercise (Matthew 7:1-5; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:3-11), I would say that the The Screwtape Letters is, indeed, a good read.
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).