Screwtape is the pretend demon and protagonist of CS Lewis’s famous book, The Screwtape Letters. In this satirical essay, Andrew Lansdown imagines what Screwtape might teach his pupils (and, in reverse, Christians) about persecution and suffering.
Our subject today, my novice fiends, is: “How to help the Enemy’s urchins avoid persecution and suffering.”
Now hush your maggoty howls and listen to your Uncle Screwtape! Our Father didn’t promote me to Professor of Persecution for nothing, so listen and learn.
I know all about the pleasures to be had from hurting the little urchins. I personally supervised their slaughter in the Colosseum. You didn’t know that, did you? Yes, I spearheaded the Great Retaliation after the Enemy pulled that dirty trick with his Son. It was my idea to set the lions onto them. Their screams were lovely, lovely! I still relish them.
But what does it profit a demon if he gains an urchin’s screams, but loses his soul? This is the great danger of persecution: it can strengthen an urchin’s resolve to remain faithful to the Enemy, or it can result in an urchin’s death in a state of grace. Either result is disastrous for us. Never forget: our ultimate goal is their souls, not their suffering and death, as pleasant as the latter may be. And to achieve this long-term goal, we must sometimes forgo our short-term pleasure.
So, my fellow fiends, our aim is to help the Enemy’s urchins avoid persecution and suffering. But how? I suggest three courses of action.
- The Book
To begin with, we must distract the urchins from the Enemy’s Book. In particular, we must ensure that they do not read—or, failing that, do not ponder—those passages that speak of the inevitability of suffering. You know the ones: in the world you will have tribulation1; through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God;2share in suffering for the gospel—3
Oh, cut the cavil and carp! How can you fight the Enemy if you don’t know his Book? Our Father used it against the Enemy’s Son during the Grand Temptation. Are you greater than he? The sayings and sentiments of the Book may be ugly, but an understanding of them is necessary: you can’t divert the urchins from them if you don’t familiarise yourself with them.
Now then, without the whining or retching sounds, listen carefully to the teaching of the Book about the inevitability of persecution and suffering: we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction;4share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus;5endure suffering;6be patient in tribulation;7do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you;8rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.9These are precisely the passages we don’t want the urchins to read and reflect on.
Instead, we want them to think that being an urchin exempts them from suffering. Indeed, we want them to believe that the Enemy has actually promised them exemptions! This leads me to my second point.
- Heaven now
We must strengthen a delusion that is rampant in many parts of the Enemy’s organisation—a delusion, I might add, that we played no small part in devising (although, to give them their credit, the urchins adopted and disseminated it with an enthusiasm quite beyond our hellish hopes)! I refer, of course, to our Father’s glorious “heaven now” theology. This amusing counterfeit theology encourages urchins to believe that the Enemy means to give them now on earth what he has promised them later in heaven.
The relevance of heaven now theology to our topic should be self-evident. Oh, don’t look so alarmed, you dunderheads! I won’t put you on the spot. I’ll spell it out for you. If an urchin believes that health and happiness are promised to him in the present, he will not be receptive to the Enemy’s true teaching that in this world he will have tribulation. Indeed, he will neither consider the need to shoulder his share of suffering nor shoulder it with fortitude when it comes upon him.
Furthermore, when urchins believe that the life of faith guarantees the life of ease, they become estranged from the sufferings of the Enemy’s Son, which is a necessary part of urchin-Enemy solidarity. For although the Son suffered on their behalf, they are, in some unfathomable sense, meant to share in and complete his suffering. The absurdity of it: he suffered for their sake and in return they suffer for his sake! Anyway, urging on the urchins in their good-life delusions is an effective way to weaken their identification with the Son and his sufferings.
Deliciously, heaven nowism places the Enemy in a dilemma, so far as the urchins’ perceptions are concerned. For whenever he gives them wellbeing and wealth, they take it as proof of the truth of their false theology. And whenever he allows persecution and suffering, they are tempted to believe that he has broken his promise to them. Ingenious, eh? It’s a win-win for us!
- The short view
I mentioned at the outset of my talk that we must be prepared to take a long view, adopt an eternal perspective. But, my dastardly darlings, we must strive with all our might to prevent the urchins from doing the same. Whatever else we do, we must encourage them to take a short view, adopt a temporal perspective. We want them to think of suffering purely in the context of the here and now. And in that limited context, suffering of any sort can take on a sense of overwhelming weight and permanence.
For the one who is experiencing it, suffering is a total reality, all-embracing, all-consuming. It threatens to obliterate everything but itself. The presence of pain and the possibility of relief dominate the sufferer’s thoughts, emotions and actions. To offset this domination, the Enemy offers a consolation that is based on counter-balancing the long view against the short. The following passage (brace yourselves, and no raspberries, curses or yelps) illustrates perfectly his style of argumentation:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.10
Dry up, Dryretch! Less regurgitation and more cogitation would help you see the primary and secondary antitheses in this passage for yourself. But as eternity is not long enough for you to nut them out, I will point them out now for your edification.
The Enemy presents three subsidiary sets of opposites, which in turn make up the qualities of the single main set: “affliction” and “glory”. Hence, he counter-balances the light against the weighty, the momentary against the eternal, and the seen against the unseen—with the former negative qualities attaching to “affliction” and the latter positive qualities attaching to “glory”. In this way, he encourages his urchins to view suffering in the context not of time, but of eternity, and to take heart in the knowledge that, comparatively speaking, affliction is lightweight and fleeting, while the reward of glory and glorification is substantial and enduring.
Yes, of course, Bratworst, your brain hurts! You have that in common, thankfully, with many an urchin. But there are some urchins who are actually prepared to think about such passages, and these urchins, when faced with suffering, are in danger of taking the long view. We must do our utmost to deter them!
Fortunately for us, the short view is most congenial to urchin—and, indeed, to all human—thinking. The present is, well, so present, it is hard to think past it. And it is harder still to think of accepting real, immediate suffering for the sake of a hoped, future happiness that can only be glimpsed by faith. So circumstances are on our side as we work to seduce the little suckers to the short view. If we can just keep them from contemplating the everlasting future, we can keep them from participating—
You think this is just theory, do you, Smartsmarm, just so much gas from the fissures in the shores of the Lake of Fire? Well, let me remind you, in the hideous words of the Enemy’s Book, of the effect of the long view on that uber-urchin, Moses: He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.11That’s what happens when the little urchins get the long view—the wrong view—in their heads!
What? Yes, Scabheart, that was my third point and I am finished for today.
What, Sucksole? Like a three-point sermon? Ha, ha, very droll.
Now off you go, my putrid poppets, and nurture those urchins who hanker for happiness above all else. Tell them in whispers that it is theirs by right and by guarantee of the Enemy, who is “love” and so would never let them suffer in the slightest. Tell them they can leap from heights and he will send his angels to catch them, lest they dash their tootsies against the stones!
And if, despite your best efforts, one should succumb to persecution, stop him from thinking of ultimate, eternal things. Get him thinking that his suffering is lasting. And whisper into his heart that the Enemy has betrayed him. Rob him of all hope.
Off with you, and, as the saying goes, may the devil take the hindmost!
Bible references – English Standard Version
1. John 16:33.2. Acts 14:22. 3. 2 Timothy 1:8.4. 1 Thessalonians 3:4 (cf 3:3). 5. 2 Timothy 2:3. 6. 2 Timothy 4:5.7. Romans 12:12.8. 1 Peter 4:12.9. 1 Peter 4:12.10. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. 11. Hebrews 11:26