An artful, old devil writing to his young, overconfident nephew about how they can win the soul of a young man using the arts of casuistry—this is the basis of C. S. Lewis’s book called The Screwtape Letters. Yet, although the text speaks in language obverse to spiritual truth, the novel has been brilliantly tailored to enlighten Christians everywhere to the reality of hell’s campaign and the need for Christians to walk circumspectly.
While the Bible instructs the Christian to take every thought captive to Christ, The Screwtape Letters makes one aware of how easy it is to become side-tracked and how even the simplest divergences can render one’s spiritual efforts ineffective. An example of this mistake was given regarding one’s prayer life. God, of course, is not visible to people; therefore one cannot really know what He like, yet people often conjure an image of Him in their minds and pray to that picture. As a result, one is not praying to the infinite, incomprehensible Being who made him but to an object or figment of his imagination. What Christians should strive for is a "real nakedness of the soul in prayer." This is primarily a personal recognition that God is beyond what one can understand, and it is an entrustment of oneself to a real, present, all-powerful Being. The goal of a demon may be to remove this trust and replace the object of one’s prayer with anything but God, but a Christian precludes the success of this scheme when he prays not to what he believes God is, but to what God knows Himself to be.
A second point to which the book gives warning is basing decisions in one’s spiritual walk on feelings. This point is illustrated in the Christian’s ignorance of the law of undulation. The law of undulation is a natural cycle that happens in both a person’s emotions and in his spiritual walk. It is a series of troughs and peaks or highs and lows that prevent the Christian from always feeling spiritually alive or always feeling spiritually numb—that is, his "mood" is always changing. The demon Screwtape attributes this phenomenon to the fact that humans, although in possession of a spirit, in habit time like animals. Screwtape writes that "while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change." Unfortunately, Christians who suddenly do not sense the Lord’s presence as strongly often panic. New Christians especially will fall away from their devotional time with the fading of their initial sensitivity or "fire." Yet Christians should know that this is not God breaking his promise to never leave his child; rather, it is His way of teaching His child to trust Him despite what he feels, to keep in prayer, keep praising, and keep obeying. The trough may involve more than a noticeable withdrawing of God’s presence. It may occur with difficult trials and testing. But it is in the trough, not the peak, that the Christian toddler learns to walk, as God, in a sense, takes away his hand, which served as an early support and incentive. It is God’s desire that His child willingly conform his own will to his Father’s, even in a state of "dryness," when blind obedience is difficult. Therefore, it is imperative that the believer understand that the trough is natural, temporary, and essential for spiritual growth; he simply needs to choose, despite the way he feels, to have faith in a God who, for His own purpose, does not always make Himself "indisputable" or "irresistible."
A third aspect regards one’s personal tenets—all of those personal beliefs that determine one’s actions. Most likely, there are always some beliefs or ideas that reside within a person that have not yet been conformed to God’s truth. For instance, Screwtape’s advice to his nephew was to give the "patient" the idea that of each day, he is "the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours"—his time is his property. While the truth stands that each moment of time is a gift to man which he can never make or possess, a mere sense of ownership causes a world of trouble. The individual would begin to feel that the time allotted to work for his employees was a severe tax on his energy and patience. He would regard the time he gave to church attendance, prayer, and Bible reading a "generous donation," and the time he spent for himself, a personal right. This is an assumption that many Christians make subconsciously before their day begins, but it must be torn down by the truth that Christians are truly committed to total service for God. He can only have one master, God or Satan. Screwtape writes, "They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong—certainly not to them, whatever happens." It is important that Christians be on the lookout for wrong beliefs and ideas they hold above what God says is true. A surrendering of the small things can go a long way in freeing the Christian to serve God effectively.
The final element for my discussion is focus. God desires Christians to be concerned with both eternity and the present. Attending to eternity means that one is meditating on his eternal union with God. Attending to the present means avoiding unnecessary distractions from all other tenses of time and focusing on what requires attention now, whether that be obeying God, taking up the present cross, or giving thanks for the present pleasure. The object of Screwtape and his nephew is to insidiously weaken the effect of God’s power in one’s life by diverting his attention. Sometimes demons tempt Christians to live in the past, being beset with guilt from past wrongs, ceasing to move ahead in one’s spiritual walk while living off the glory of one’s past spiritual accomplishments, or feeling that all life’s joy can only be found in the past. However, demons may find it most effective to draw one’s attention to the future. Certainly, God desires Christians to be provident, looking ahead into the future in order to plan for the here and now, but he does not want them to dwell on it unnecessarily to the pint of fear or to place their hearts or their treasure in the future. No, that is a demon’s desire for humans. Screwtape wants a race of people who are in constant search of the "rainbow’s end," never allowing themselves to be content with the present. It is even better, Screwtape says, for a person to be filled with anxiety or hope—doesn’t matter which—for the future, just as long as he is not relying on God in the present. There is but one caution, however. While living in the present, one should avoid becoming complacent or satisified with their spiritual position but should continually strive for Christ-likeness.
The reality of sophistical demons and their insatiable craving for human failure should not cause the Christian undue fear, but it should make him aware of his need for solid, spiritual truth. The Screwtape Letters reveals how insensible humans can be, and it challenges them to take their thoughts, feelings, tenets, and focus captive and subject them to the truth and obedience of Christ.