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Resisting the Prowling Lion – Day 36

Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape

Day 36 – Tuesday in Holy Week

To Read:

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’.


The grand problem is that of ‘unselfishness’.   Note, once again, the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy’s positive Charity.   Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them.   That is a great point gained.   Another great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes.   A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others.   As a result, a woman who is quite far gone in the Enemy’s service will make a nuisance of herself on a larger scale than any man except those whom Our Father has dominated completely; and, conversely, a man will live long in the Enemy’s camp before he undertakes as much spontaneous work to please others as a quite ordinary woman may do every day.   Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.

Your affectionate uncle


To Reflect:

‘I h’accuse myself,’ says the old lay sister during a Chapter of Faults in Rumer Godden’s story of Brede Abbey‘of having committed an act of charity in such a way as to never be asked again’. 

So is acted out the difference in Screwtape’s terms between what most women think of charity and how most men perceive charity.  ‘A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others.’  In  Screwtape’s gender stereotype (for such it is) men are seen to all too quickly complain ‘Woman why can’t you leave well enough alone’ whilst women in their turn may round on men with the words ‘Why don’t you get out there and do something!’

It is easy to see how the one can be used to condemn the other though both presume they are being righteous according to their own calling.  I suppose the deeper, more dangerous, selfishness comes in thinking that people are only being righteous when they follow God in the same way as I do – a kind of Gospel According to Saint ‘InsertOwnNameHere’ – the patron saint of the self- righteous!

The challenge is to learn to be charitable about other people’s charity.  How many times has there been frustration in the common life of a church family because people do good things at inappropriate times, without thinking through the consequences of their deeds, and with the presumption that my way is God’s way?  Recently I came across a book whose title describes a whole class of church people – including myself –  as ‘Well Intentioned Dragons!’  Mind you that is marginally better than doing nothing at all for fear of offending others.  Such a spirit leads to a cesspit of complaint and gossip that has Screwtape rubbing his hands with glee.   We fall into the trap of the Israelites when they first entered the Promised Land: –

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.  (Judges 17.6)

How much better if we were to learn the challenge from the last words Jesus spoke to the apostle Peter, who seemed very worried about the calling of the Beloved Disciple: –

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’   When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’  Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ (John 21.20-22)

Why should we be over concerned with someone else’s journey anyway?  Following our own path is difficult enough without offering advice (criticism?) of how others answer the call of God.  Every time we find ourselves concerned about the direction or depth of another’s acts of charity we stop giving attention to our own and hinder theirs as well as our own!  Why can we not simply pray that each of us would do the best we can wherever we find ourselves to be?  We would do far better to follow the advice of the author of Hebrews:-

…. let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, (Hebrews 10.24)

Sadly, I know too many Christians who are quite good at ‘provoking ‘ their sisters and brothers in Christ – but not always in a helpful way…

In this Holy Week the opening verses of Hebrews 12 remind us of the focus and perseverance of Jesus, who, for the sake of the coming joy, refused to be distracted from the task in front of him.  He could ‘scorn’ the cross and all its pain, surely we can ignore the ‘charitable’ acts of another even if they are very irksome?

To Do:

Next time someone does something good in a way you would not do it, no matter how irritating you may find it, say ‘thank you’.

A Psalm To Ponder:


Refrain:        With the wealth of your generous love, melt the ice of our hating hearts, 

dissolve our envy and bitterness, assure us that we are beyond price.

The spirit of hatred eats us alive, 

gnawing away, draining our energy.

With what twisted and mocking delight 

the innocent are corrupted, the gentle are scarred.     Refrain:

We accumulate the goods of this world, 

‘our wealth a reward for virtue.’

Yet we look down from a superior height, 

despising the poor, increasing their burdens.     Refrain:

Never content with the possessions we have, 

greedy for more, we harden our hearts.

Restless envy peers out from our eyes, 

so cold, suspicious and harsh.     Refrain:

Some of us turn our hatred within, 

believing we have no worth of our own.

Cool disapproval drove us to despair, 

and we kill ourselves by degrees.     Refrain:

Goodness incarnate was too much to bear, 

showing us how crabbed and bitter we are.

The rage to kill rose in our throats, 

 satisfaction hollow and bleak.     Refrain:

You took to yourself, Compassionate God, 

all our hatred and spite.

You endured with a passion unbroken, 

you left us with nothing but love.     Refrain:

So you impel us to justice, 

generous in giving, caring for others, 

no longer grudging and grim, 

able to share with no need to control.

Help us, just and generous God, not to project perfection on to those who lead us, nor give others the illusion that we ourselves are perfect.  May we leave no room for envy and hatred, and no longer howl with glee when the good let us down.   AMEN. (Jim Cotter)


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

If you would like them as a daily email please send a request to vicar@felixparish.com


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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