Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 14 – Thursday 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
You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.
……He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.
…….We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
Your affectionate uncle
The big problem with free will is that it is, well, ‘free will’.
One of the challenges many religious people face is that the framework in which we have learnt the faith has been one of action and reaction. Do good and you are loved, do bad and you are punished. If you love God, then God will love you back. If we don’t love God then God will not love us, and may perhaps even condemn us. My early childhood view of a ‘God who is out to get you’ was seriously challenged (through the words of René Girardand James Alison) to look again at the impossibility of a violent God, an angry God, a God who desire is only to punish a recalcitrant creation and whip it into obedience. Not a pretty picture of anyone’s idea of a God of love…
How different from that picture is the God whom Screwtape demeans because:-
Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.
‘He cannot ravish, he can only woo’. Please God may I learn this lesson day after day! If I did I know I would be able to hold on even tighter during those desert dry times of the journey. In the deepest darkest places of my life, the most literally God-forsaken parts (although it is most often a case of me forsaking God) it is then that I must listen most closely for God’s whispers of love. And, when as will happen to all of us some time along the way, there is only silence in response to our cries of desolation it is then that we must choose to follow. That is the meaning of free will.
I suppose for each of us it is somewhat like the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who, on being thrown into the fiery furnace proclaim that:-
‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’
Faced with the furnace and apparent silence from a God who may not be able to rescue them they still trust in God. Free will indeed!
To allow myself to be ‘wooed’ by God means God will let me be ‘me’. God will allow me to stand up on my own legs and even, like a parent teaching their toddler to walk, will let go of me. The youngest of babies in their unsteady stumbling knows instinctively to reach out towards their loving caring parent as they take their first steps, giggling all the way as they fall towards home. Why do we find it so difficult?
How important it is to learn that the deep troughs of the undulations of the spiritual life are not darkness but are in fact the place from which we take the first steps of a deeper faith. Climbing from there up into the lap of the One who Loves us Best. IT is there that we will find a love forged not only in the bowers of the beloved’s bosom but also in the dark night of the soul.
Only if you feel strong enough to do this…
In your mind’s eye travel to the darkest and loneliest of your life experiences and ask God where God was during that time?
Hint: Take tissues with you on this journey
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 121 – REFRESHMENT AND RIGOUR
Refrain: Companion on my journey, Protector at my side, I venture on the way in simple childlike trust.
I look towards the mountain ranges,
and fear their lurking terrors.
The pilgrim path takes me through them,
by rocks and ravines, ambush and vultures.
Stormy winds and swirl round the summits,
avalanches threaten across trackless screes.
The hills themselves give no courage or strength,
and I turn once again to my God. Refrain:
Tempted to slide back into mud,
down to the bliss of oblivion,
yet I hear the lure of my Lover,
whispering through my story’s confusion.
The God who draws me is urging me on,
and I discover my faltering Yes.
I stumble along the rough pathways,
surprised by a hand that is grasping my own. Refrain:
To and fro, back and forth,
on the twists of their journey,
courage moves me onwards,
faith trusts in the future;
wisdom makes me pause,
I rest by the stream;
taking time to delve deep,
I listen for the Voice. Refrain:
I reach for the unknown mountain,
to the summit where God speaks anew,
on the boundary of earth and heaven,
the frontier of time and eternity,
the place of a special revealing,
marked by the stones of a cairn.
As I ponder the codes of my dreaming,
I am surprised by the mystery of God. Refrain:
The hills themselves slowly change,
never as firm as they seem;
shrouded, brooding, and dark,
their rocks splintered by frost,
worn away by the lashing of storms,
no strength in themselves to support me,
only form God comes my help. Refrain:
With the wind of the Spirit empower me,
stirring the substance of earth,
moving my innermost being,
yet keeping me from all lasting harm.
Keep watch, do not slumber, Guardian of your people,
shade from the heat, healer and guide.
Nourish the life of my truest self,
from this moment on and for ever. Refrain:
Deepen my trust in your Presence, my God, for you seem often absent and hidden, and I am afraid of what the way will bring. Deepen my trust. 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