Screwtape on Greatest Evil

Max McLean as Screwtape, Satan’s top psychiatrist

Uncle Jack indeed has a way of stating simple truths simply. I realize that seems like a, “Duh,” statement, but too often scholars over-complicate the simple. While Screwtape loves to tempt human brainiacs to flaunt their presumed intellect with lengthy dissertations on the most mundane topics, he deals with his minions quite simply indeed.

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

“Dens of crime” in Charles Dickens’ plays typified nineteenth-century England’s basest moral strata, but depravation wasn’t confined to the gutters of London’s East End. Now, as then, “men with white collars” institutionalize all kinds of evil for profit, defining truth as any cock-and-bull story that will line their pockets with silver and perpetuate their usurped authority. Money certainly can’t buy happiness, but it is required to gain power in this sinful generation.

Screwtape’s little lesson should serve as a warning to those citizens voting in the coming—indeed, all—elections, to look beyond the political promises (spelled, l-i-e-s) to the politicians’ power-grabbing agendas. Political corruption is a non-partisan issue, with most politicians and political parties openly placating any special interest group, regardless how depraved their “interests.” Egalitarianism and free enterprise are wonderful ideals, but both require balance in pursuing them, a balance that is impossible to achieve without God’s unchanging principles providing their foundation.

C.S. Lewis on Christ Alone

Uncle Jack’s critics call him a universalist because of such statements as, “… we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” If that were the extent of his statement on the issue I would join his critics in trying to discredit him, but it’s not, and I won’t. To establish the full context of his statement, here is an excerpt from his, Mere Christianity:

Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ’s body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.

The main Scriptural reason for criticizing Lewis’ statement above is Apostle Peter’s declaration recounted in Acts 3-4:12, “This One is the Stone counted worthless [despised] by you the builders, the One who has come to be into the Head of the Corner (Psa. 118:22); and there is salvation in no other One, for neither is there any other name under Heaven having been given among men by which we must be saved.” (LITV)

This brings us to the inevitable confrontation with that dreaded word: theology. Two main schools of thought exist among evangelical Christians: Calvinism, and Wesleyan-Arminianism. Please note the -ism behind each of those titles that mutates ideas into institutions. Over-simplified, Calvinists believe that God chose His children before creation, and somehow, those “elect” will hear the gospel of Christ and believe unto salvation; it’s, “sorry, Charlie,” for everyone else. The Wesleyan-Arminian (Holiness) school of thought declares that anyone who, by their own free will, hears Christ’s gospel, believes it, repents of his sin and bears the fruit of God’s Spirit, is one of God’s elect by His foreknowledge. Both views ignore or rationalize Bible passages that seem to support the opposing side.

I heartily agree with Lewis’ statement that, “God has not told us what His arrangements about (those who never heard the gospel) are.” Calvinists say they were never members of God’s elect, while Holiness people, at least on this issue, remain silent where the Bible is silent. With Lewis, I doubt that God will hold anyone responsible for their honest ignorance, but because of such passages as Acts 4:12, I can’t agree with his statement that we don’t need to know Him to be saved through Him.

Lewis aptly sums up his thoughts with, “If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them.” I warn the doctrinal nitpickers that there are worse things than being mistaken about points of dogma. God will not hold anyone accountable for honest error, but the unloving, the judgemental, the zealots, are subject to the same judgement as they were in Jesus’ time. Just because they now call themselves, “Christians,” makes no difference at all.

C.S. Lewis on Effort

Uncle Jack has always had a way of eliciting controversy; religious liberals accuse him of being too conservative, and religious conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. He brings out the extreme range of opinion among Christians. While I disagree with him on some theological points, I’ve found much more agreement with his Scripture applications. His statement on effort, from Words to Live By, is a case in point.

Many things—such as loving, going to sleep, or behaving unaffectedly—are done worst when we try hardest to do them.

So true, but Lewis didn’t mention the self-control required to do those things without trying.

Did I hear you say, “That’s nuts!”? Well, it’s not nuts. The only way to develop positive behaviors so you do them automatically is by developing the appropriate habits, and that takes self-control.

What motivates those positive habit formations? God’s Holy Spirit, working through frequent exposure to, study of, and meditation on his Word. That is the very first godly habit, and all the others flow from it. When God opens your eyes to the awful wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for your sins, and the depth of his love for you—personally—that motivated him to submit to that torture, you will want to let him speak to you through his Word. God will show you that he is love, and as Jesus demonstrated his love by dying on the cross for you, so you will want to demonstrate your love for him by crucifying your own desires for self-gratification, and obeying him even when you don’t feel like it.

C.S. Lewis on Self-Insight

34502Though I’ve taken some flack recently over using Lewis’ ideas to illustrate truths, I must continue to do so despite the acknowledged errors in his theology. Following our Lord Christ’s narrow Way does not demand that we follow Him with narrow minds. I’ve discovered errors in my own understanding of theology, and I expect to do so again, and the only way to continue with that program of self-correction is to keep my mind open to God’s Truth. I will always stand squarely on God’s Word as my exclusive source of eternal Truth, but that does not preclude others’ words opening my eyes to Biblical Truth that I have not yet discovered, or better understanding Truth-related concepts. With that disclaimer, here’s Uncle Jack.

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

Uncle Jack, in his inimitable style, expressed a concept that I call, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” When you’re in sin, you can’t see it for what it is, rather like magnifying a photograph to the pixel or grain-level, where the colored dots mean nothing to you. If you’re a serious Christ-follower, a similar phenomenon effects your appreciation of your spiritual life; though you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you can often forget how far behind you’ve left your former life of sin.

That’s why you need faithful brethren close by to encourage you in those bummer times of forgetfulness, to remind you of who you are now, in Christ Jesus. In case that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s called the Church. Remember the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24-25  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Everyone will live to see, “The Day,” whether it comes for you alone, or for God’s entire church. So, be ready!

C.S. Lewis on the God of Last Resort

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It is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up “our own” when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.

Well said, Uncle Jack.

One fundamental(ist?) problem faces those of us who try to earn brownie points with God; he is entirely self-sufficient, and needs nothing we have to offer, including our good works, money and stringent obedience to religious codes. The truth is far more simple.

First John 4:16 tells us, “God is love.” As personified love, God needs nothing more than people who willingly receive his love; that’s you and me. I’ll venture onto a limb to say that love received is love returned, and that’s all he wants from us. “We are loving because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 DNLT) We not only return God’s love, but because of God’s love, we love others, including those we can’t stand.

What may have begun as our last resort has become our first and only choice. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.b The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

C.S. Lewis on Addiction To Experiences

Once again, Uncle Jack nailed it, and this time on a difficult topic:

TO MRS. RAY GARRETT: On the real program of the spiritual life—living in the present moment.

12 September 1960

The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs—a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty—bear the present pain—enjoy the present pleasure—and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

That’s the programme, isn’t it?

Yes, that is indeed the “programme.” One sort of stimulation he left out is fun. We have elevated, “having fun,” from an occasional treat, to a continual obsession. We pursue it at the expense of life’s reasonable responsibilities, and as Lewis said, “A stronger dose is needed each time, and soon no possible dose is effective.”

We wonder why our kids complain so often of boredom. Have we never thought it might be related to our compulsion with keeping them occupied in, “fun activities?” We recognize our babies’ need to avoid “over stimulation,” but when they get older we keep them stimulated at all cost. Lewis didn’t use the word, but that’s called “desensitization,” where they become accustomed to a certain stimulation level, so they need ever more to feel it at all. Hmm, sounds like addiction, doesn’t it?

So, what choices do we have to deal with the problem? The easiest in the short term would be to keep on keepin’ on, leaving our offspring to deal with the consequences. But is the loving thing to do?

Our second choice is the hard one to implement, but it actually deals with the problem: Take away their media gadgets until they learn to live without them, and until they begin showing some level of gratitude for life’s more subtle enjoyments. Then, gradually reintroduce them to the gadgets which, by then, will be completely obsolete.

Yes, you will have to endure a storm of opposition. And yes, you will have to demonstrate your own independence from the entertainment media. Your reward will be more quality time with them, and yourselves.

That’s hard medicine to swallow, but nothing else will free both them, and yourselves, from artificial stimulation. Bite the bullet! Kick the addiction! And yes, I need to do it as well (ouch!).

C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Evil

Lucifer, the proud archangel.

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.

God simply cannot satisfy the people he made after his own image. Along with giving us his greatest creative gift of free will, he gives us his wisdom, first in his law, and now in his Son. Still, we complain about his judgment when we choose to go against his infinite wisdom.

C.S. Lewis on Why You Are You

The Brocken Spectre

Listen up, people! This one is important. I’m only posting this excerpt from Uncle Jack’s The Problem of Pain on the off-chance that even one person will read it, carefully. So, here goes:

[God's] signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

I’ve never seen this principle of individuality expressed so well: God is the Worker; heredity and environment are His tools. He loves our differences because He crafted them so carefully. “Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s.” You must not accept any other’s vision of your heavenly Father … Really! I never thought of that before. Didn’t He make our eyes, our perceptions, different? One of the Evangelical community’s great problems is we expect, even demand, that others see God as we do. Brethren! We are not clones! When God’s Spirit moves into your soul, He decides what about you He will change in the new creature that used to be you. You’ll still have the same name (and a New Name), face (but with His glory showing through), personality (unless you were a stinker), family (with the significant addition of your spiritual brethren), interests (unless they were ungodly), and job (unless calls you to another). You will, however, have an entirely new world view, resulting in an entirely new eternal destiny.

So, don’t worry about conforming to others’ expectations. Just be Christ to your world.

C.S. Lewis on Heaven

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2 NASB)

Uncle Jack had a typically unique and refreshing perspective on our Biblical world view, including heaven, hell, and our earthly ambitions.

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’. In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven everywhere. But we, at this end of the road, must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.

From C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

I’ve long believed that Jesus will furnish the “dwelling places” he is building for those of us who abide in him to life’s earthly end, with the best and most delightful things that only the Creator of the universe could ever imagine. If old Bowser of your childhood will make you happier than anything else in the universe, you shall have him forever. If that Beemer sports car you’ve been drooling over is the best thing God can provide for you, then you shall have it, and never have to replace tires or add fuel. After all, golden streets are unlikely to wear your tires much anyway. Or, if standing in the eternal, self-existent One’s presence, hands lifted and crying out praises to the King of kings will make you happier than anything else he can imagine, you will be able to do it, without tiring, for as long as you like, even for eternity if you so desire.

Just think of enjoying perfect love, joy, and peace, without wondering when the other shoe will drop. That is what our loving Father has in store for those who follow his Christ faithfully.

I love Lewis’ last sentence in this excerpt: I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself. Well said, Uncle Jack.

C.S. Lewis on Bereavement

Joy and Jack

14 July 1960 in a letter to Peter Bide

Joy died at 10 o’clock last night in the [hospital]. I was alone with her at the moment, but she was not conscious. I had never seen the moment of natural death before. It was far less dreadful than I had expected—indeed there’s nothing to it. Pray for her soul. I have prayed twice daily of late for us four together—you and Margy and me and Joy. I shall continue for you two.

I can’t understand my loss yet and hardly (except for brief but terrible moments) feel more than a kind of bewilderment, almost a psychological paralysis. A bit like the first moments after being hit by a shell.

I’d like to meet. Perhaps I could come up to town some day when you are in town and take you to lunch at the Athenaeum. For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realise in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must be tied. God bless all three of us.

That Uncle Jack felt much as I did two years and nine months ago at once surprises me, and doesn’t. I’m sure that Lewis would agree with me as to the ambiguous emotions that I yet experience when recalling Nancy’s death. As soon as I think I’m finally over the loss, something happens, like the above excerpt from Lewis’ correspondence, that trounces upon my still-sensitive wound. In fact, that is exactly what such loss is, as when a major organ is ripped from your body. It isn’t a surgically precise incision, either. Rather, it reminds me of one of the Indiana Jones flicks, where this evil, demonic priest reaches into the chest of his sacrificial victim, grabs the man’s still-beating heart, and slowly withdraws it. Only in my case, my heart wasn’t removed, but the intangible essence of the woman to whom I gave my heart.

So, why do I want to repeat that process. Why do I pray for God to place another woman in my life, a kindred spirit with whom I can share all of my trivial, seamy, traumatic, joyful, and exciting thoughts, and the moments in time that stimulate them? As much as I dislike some aspects of my temperament and thought-life, I need to share them with one who is willing to love me as doggedly as does my Savior, to whom I can be accountable, and who will give me that loyal boot in the tush that I need so badly. Yet, through my failed attempts at meeting that need I’ve learned to allow God to search for such an exceptional person. What he wants for me is infinitely better than anything, or anyone, that I could flush out of life’s bramble bushes.

Father God, in the name of your only begotten Son Jesus, I ask you for whatever you deem best for me. Though I feel the need for a woman meet for me, and feel it badly, I yield to your infinite wisdom in that, and every other matter in my life. Your love for me is unfathomable, as you gave your Son over to the cross’s curse, just to wash away my sin and reconcile me to yourself, so I trust your every judgment in every area of my life. 

I thank you, Father, for hearing and answering my prayer in any way that you see fit. As your handmaiden responded to you, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.”