When I first came to faith, one of the first authors I read was C.S. Lewis. I’d loved Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child, and had read some of the other books in the series, so when I found out he was a Christian, I was pretty darned excited.
The thing I noticed about Lewis’ theological work in contrast to his fiction, is it tends to be slow-burn material. The kind of stuff that, if you rush through it, you’ll miss something very important.
In other words, re-reading is necessary.
So, when I began my little re-reading project about three weeks ago, I knew one of the books on my list would have to be by Lewis. In this case, The Screwtape Letters.
The premise, for those unfamiliar, of the book is simple: it’s made up of the “found” correspondence between a senior devil (Screwtape) and a junior (Wormwood), documenting the younger’s mission to prevent a man known only as “the patient” from being won over to the side of their Enemy—Jesus.
The book’s premise itself is fascinating. To negatively communicate Truth—after all, it is written from the perspective of demons—while at the same time exposing falsehood is no easy task. From a purely creative perspective, this is insanely difficult to do well. In the hands of a lesser writer, The Screwtape Letters might well have achieved the same overbearing, heavy-handed moralism we find in later Star Trek series (with fewer cosmic reset buttons employed).
Lewis is no pulp writer, and for that we must be grateful.
As I said earlier, Lewis is one who requires careful re-reading. The first time I read this book, there was a truth I overlooked. In fact, it might be the most important—and provocative—topic covered in the entire book. Lewis writes, “In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time” (Kindle location 418).
If this was a problem in Lewis’ day, it’s even more so in ours—especially the issue of “the choice of friends.” Think about it: when was the last time you heard someone preach on 1 Cor. 15:33 and Paul’s warning that “bad company corrupts good morals.” The closest I’ve heard in, ever, has been one where the pastor told us that if we’re going to soar like eagles, we shouldn’t hang out with turkeys.
But this is a warning we need to take seriously. Who we surround ourselves with drastically affects how we behave and what we pursue. I know a young woman who diligently pursues her faith where at least one of her siblings seems to be on a bit of a walkabout. The reason she’s rock-solid in her faith?
She’s intentional about setting up her life to nurture her relationship with Christ. She makes it a priority and surrounds herself with people who encourage that (including her husband). While we can’t blame our friends if we’re declining spiritually, we should always recognize the influence our friends play on our walk with Christ.
This is one of the most overlooked truths in the Bible, and one of the truths I didn’t fully appreciate when I first read The Screwtape Letters. But it’s one I’m so thankful is there.
I can imagine some reading this book as though it were an authoritative treatise—that this is the way that demons act in our world and act against us, in the same way some treat Left Behind as gospel truth on the end times.1 But this would only do injustice to what Lewis is doing here.
Lewis doesn’t want his readers to be looking for the devil behind every corner after reading this book. Nor does he wish for them to be shouting, “the devil made me do it!” whenever they go astray.
Instead, in The Screwtape Letters, Lewis is giving us a warning, and doing it in such a way that we can’t easily ignore. He is showing us how prone we are to abandon our Lord—not with big decisions, but through tiny, seemingly insignificant ones. Apostasy isn’t a sudden leap, but “the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (Kindle location 515). This is a reminder, a warning, we need again and again. Let’s pay attention, shall we?
Title: The Screwtape Letters
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Harper Collins (2009 edition)