Screwtape on Humility


C.S. Lewis’ fictional Senior Demon provides lots of grist for the temptation-mill. Here’s a little lesson for his nephew Wormwood about how “Humility” can work in their favor.

Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.

I can’t dispute Screwtape’s argument as far as it goes, but the next paragraph attributes a motivation to God that is entirely un-godly. I’ve highlighted it, just in case you miss it.

But there are other profitable ways of fixing his attention on the virtue of Humility. By this virtue, as by all the others, our Enemy wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbours. All the abjection and self-hatred are designed, in the long run, solely for this end; unless they attain this end they do us little harm; and they may even do us good if they keep the man concerned with himself, and, above all, if self-contempt can be made the starting point for contempt of other selves, and thus for gloom, cynicism, and cruelty.

God doesn’t do “abjection and self-hatred.” There’s more than enough of that to go around as it is. Humility? Yes! Poor in spirit? By all means. 1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love because he first loved us.” If you use the Authorized Version, you likely think I left out a very important word, but the best commentators say the best texts put it that way, and who am I to argue with such highly ejakated scholars.

My point is, why should we hate ourselves when God loves us at our worst? Romans 5:6 tells us, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” That’s you and me.

The end of Screwtape’s argument sorta proves my point; abjection and self-hatred lead only to despair, hopelessness, and spiritual suicide—if not physical suicide. I know such would have been the case for me in times past, if I hadn’t cared about the consequences.

You say there are things in your life, temperament, and personality that you absolutely can’t stand? Join the club! The better we know Christ, the less pleased we’ll be with what we see in ourselves. But hey, that’s motivation to change, through his Holy Spirit’s power.

So get off your low-horse and practice Christ-like meekness, which is humility with God’s power working in your life.

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