And now to close the series, a taste of the real thing – an excerpt from one of my favorite Screwtape letters (12).
With regard to temptation, Screwtape urges Wormwood to use subtlety and slowness: “My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient, you awaken him to a sense of his real position,” he writes.
He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space…
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 things that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized sin, but only with his vague though uneasy feeling that he hasn’t been doing well lately.
…A few weeks ago you had to tempt him to unreality and inattention in his prayers: but now you will find him opening his arms to you and almost begging you to distract his purpose and benumb his heart.
…You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him.
…And nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiousities so feeble that the mind is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.
You will say these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectactular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is not better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
And that, folks, is enough to chew on all day.
For excellent reading, be sure to check out this classic: The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. HarperOne, 2015.