Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 11 – Monday after 2nd Sunday of Lent
From The Screwtape Letters:
Screwtape, a senior demon, is offering advice to Wormwood his nephew, an apprentice demon. The language he uses is ‘upside down’ referring to God as ‘the Enemy’ and the devil as ‘Our Father Below’.
MY DEAR WORMWOOD
I had not forgotten my promise to consider whether we should make the patient an extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist. All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them. Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse of mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the ‘Cause’ is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy’s own purposes, this remains true. We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.
Your affectionate uncle
This quote, is the last piece from Screwtape’s letters about the use of war in temptation but far from the last about extremism. As we travel the rest of this Lenten journey we will see how extremism (or ‘party spirit’ as the old versions of the scriptures called it – Galatians 5v19-21) is one of the chief ways in which the devil uses our enthusiasm to shipwreck our devotion.
If this age of mass media has done anything to our common life it has led us to the frequent use of extremist language and extreme positions. Ten years ago I was surprised to find that, according to Radio Suffolk, that I was not simply upset about the Church of England being then unable to ordain women as bishops but was in fact ‘furious!’ In current church events I suppose my ‘extremism’ has now moved on to demanding Equal Marriage and plotting Human Composting? Just look at the headlines of today’s newspapers to see how every opinion is an extreme opinion.
On the whole, and I recognise that my life tends to be a little bit like a white van speeding out of control down a motorway, I have a leaning towards extreme activist positions on almost any topic; finding being ‘lukewarm’ a little too Laodicean for my liking. Knowing this about myself I have to learn that both extreme activism and extreme disinterest are both tools of the tempter. Would that I could see this when the red mist of following a ‘just cause’ descends over the eyes of my own faith!
Being ‘normal’ is not as popular as it used to be, no one wants to be ‘average’ anymore. Somehow we have brought the lie that we need to be different and are eager to build ‘us and them’ factions in church and public life (more of this later). Whenever we do this we end up turning our sisters and brothers into opponents: enemies and objects of ridicule and hate instead of ‘bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh’. (cf Genesis 2v23)
We seem destined to be better at building cliques and clubs of society than building the human family. In so doing we collaborate in constructing a kingdom which is divided against itself and preside over its inevitable fall. Not a good way to promote the Reign of God…
Holding a position different to another is not of itself sinful – but demonising our opponent most definitely is! Being passionate about something which stirs our heart can be godly – but using our ‘righteousness’ to destroy another is truly the work of the devil.
This is hard – I know as I will have to do it myself!
Look at those around you with whom you disagree passionately and choose to view them as a brother or sister in Christ instead.
Take whatever steps you need to do to demonstrate this.
For me this will mean ‘unblocking’ from my Facebook account and ‘unmuting’ from my Twitter feed just a few people with whom I never seem to be able to agree….
What will you do?
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 146 – SOCIETY RESTORED – Justice and Jerusalem
Refrain: Praise to the God of Justice and Peace: from the depth of our being we praise you.
We praise you, God beyond gods;
with a world restored we praise you.
In faith we anticipate that day,
and praise you for the first fruits of its coming. Refrain:
We do not put our trust in passing fashions,
nor in the promises of powerful people.
They are powerless to save, their ashes are scattered,
their words soon crumbling to dust. Refrain:
To the Creator of the infinite heavens,
of the earth and the seas and their creatures,
who works unceasingly for justice,
we give our heartfelt praise. Refrain:
You keep faith with your promises for ever,
you put right the wrongs of the oppressed.
You give food to the hungry and thirsty,
you set the captives free. Refrain:
You give sight to the blind,
your arms lift up those who are bowed down,
you love those who live simply,
you care for the stranger, the widowed, the orphan. Refrain:
At times we do these things with you,
surprising ourselves by our courage,
giving voice to those who are not heard,
troubling and pressing the makers of policy. Refrain:
The cities we know are a patchwork,
a jostling of places of hope and despair.
Yet still we give thanks for the vision
of the City of Harmony and Peace. Refrain:
In the justice of relationships made right, in the peace that is well-being for all, we worship the God of justice and peace, we praise the God of freedom and joy, we adore the God of love and new life, we bless the God of reconciliation and healing, we glorify the God of harmony and bliss. We add our voice to the music of God; we fall silent in the presence of Mystery, in wonder and love, the Mystery that is the Source of our being and the God of our longing, beautiful, utterly holy, glorious light, unbounded love: Alleluia! Alleluia! AMEN.
Please Note: These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin
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Quotes from The Screwtape Letters are copyright © 1942 C.S. Lewis Pte
Prayers from Psalms for a Pilgrim People are copyright © 1989, 1991, 1993 Jim Cotter
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Resisting the Prowling Lion’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023