Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 16 – Saturday 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 am almost glad to hear that he is still a churchgoer and a communicant. I know there are dangers in this; but anything is better than that he should realise the break it has made with the first months of his Christian life. As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago. And while he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognised, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.
Your affectionate uncle
In his later essay ‘Screwtape Proposes a Toast’ at a banquet in hell Screwtape moans about the state of the fair on the plates in front of the demons;
Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full of points something like an apology for the banquet which he has set before us. Well, gentle devils, no one blames him. But it would be in vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skilful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.
He goes on to bemoan the fact that sin had become venial and today’s sinners were no longer like the great ‘catches’ of the past;
Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.
But, and here he counsels Wormwood, some venial sin under the cloak of a Christian practice that is akin to belonging to a social club, is sometimes better than a larger more obvious offence which (horrifying Wormwood’s patient) might drive him to his knees in repentance with the promise of a deeper devotion.
If the ‘demons’ of our life cannot turn us into hardened unrepentant egoists then they are more than happy to settle with small sins. After all banal sin remain sin. As a car bumper sticker has rephrased Romans 6v23.
“Despite inflation the wages of sin remains the same….”
Vague uneasiness – which is easily put up with – is far more to be preferred, say the tempters, to a gentle devotion and quiet humble prayer.
This is why the early Christians were always eager to challenge each other to be active in service (Hebrews 10.24-25 and others). I am frequently recalled to the words of my father-in-law, a Methodist Local Preacher, who used to ask me in all sincerity and love ‘Is it well with your soul?’
Somehow we seem to have given up the habit of encouraging one another in the faith and find it difficult to share the struggles of the journey home. I find it easier to be content with a ‘vague uneasiness’ instead of an outright repentance. Do you?
How much better it would be, and destructive of the distracting voices within, if we took care to carry each other with us? What would it take to call each other gently from times of vague uneasiness and help fan each other’s faith into flame?
By the end of Sunday encourage one fellow pilgrim in the journey.
Read the words of this hymn, or maybe even sing it out loud
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
P.S. For entertainment only why not find out who Farinata degli Uberti was – definitely more than just a pancake
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 52 – THE LIE AND THE TRUTH
Refrain: Keep our eyes fixed on the truth, the truth that will set us free.
So often the powerful ones of the world
seem to boast of their mischief and pride.
They trust in the abundance of wealth,
they take perverse delight in their greed. Refrain:
They contrive destroying slanders:
their tongues cut sharp like a razor.
In love with evil they refuse the good:
telling lies, the truth is far from them.
They love words that harm and devour,
and every deceit of the tongue. Refrain:
They step on one another as they climb to power,
they trust the weak to the gutter;
seducing the gullible in the magic of words,
they trample the truth in pursuit of ambition. Refrain:
O God, break them down utterly,
uproot them from the land of the living,
topple them from the Babel of lies,
throw them down to the dust. Refrain:
Yet so often we are the powerful,
if only with family and friends.
We wound with whispers of gossip,
mockery and scorn in our hearts,
bitterness souring our lips. Refrain:
We have not trusted your goodness, O God,
our hearts have not been grateful.
We have not glorified your name,
neither by word nor by deed. Refrain:
Too easy to call on God to destroy,
hard to be humbled by words that are true.
Even as we cry for the righting of wrongs,
for the destruction of those who harm others,
those who crush the weak and defenceless,
so do we know that revenge solves nothing,
annihilation reaping more violence still. Refrain:
May your Spirit go deeper within us,
purging our hearts, burning the impure.
Hold at bay our murderous words.
May we strive with the angel of justice,
living the way of your truth and your Word,
our faces etched in the fierceness of Love. Refrain:
Keep before us the vision of a life that is whole:
may we no longer grasp at material things.
Like a green tree may we spread out our branches,
to shield the passerby from the heat,
offering the traveller refreshment and rest,
in quietness and confidence living for others,
people of truth and compassion,
oases of God in the most barren of lands. Refrain:
May our eyes turn to look again on you, O Christ. For you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Give us courage always to be loyal to the Truth, to follow wherever the Way may lead, costly though it be, trusting that the goal is none other than life in you. 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
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