“A swift kick in the seat of the pants.” That’s how I’d describe this book for the believer who reads it with anything more than a passing fancy. While The Screwtape Letters started out as a series of essays in a magazine long ago, upon publication as a complete book it took C.S. Lewis and his apologetic and creative writings into the forefront of Western thought. In fact, according to one foreword of the book, the success of this collection even landed his mug on the cover of Time magazine.
The premise of Letters is simple yet profound and masterfully handled: a well-seasoned demon counsels his young nephew on how best to handle the life-long corruption of his human patient. In supplying humanity with this imaginative inside look into demonic bureaucracy, Lewis lets loose on his (and everyone’s) most sensitive points of morality and temptation. From our uses of time, to our innate passions, to our methods of prayer and worship, Lewis paints a strong composite portrait of the struggles of “Every Man” and how those struggles can drive each of us deeper and deeper into the spiritual apathy that keeps us from our Creator.
Though I had read a copy of this book almost a full decade ago, I recently listened to an audio adaptation of this book produced by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, and I really enjoyed it. Not only did the actors expertly depict the characters, but the producers creatively matched each scene with simple yet imaginative sound effects and musical scores. All of these elements combined to make the listener truly feel like he was a fly on the wall of Fallen Angels, Inc.
What surprised me most about this return to The Screwtape Letters was how much I had forgotten. Perhaps it’s the extra ten years of experience and failures that has made me more sensitive to the points that Lewis makes, but I found myself far more convicted this time around about my own failures. While nothing takes the place of Scripture and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, sometimes such “a swift kick in the seat of the pants” as this book is His very tool to get that conviction exactly where it needs to go. Lewis’ candidness in describing his own weaknesses truly is a declaration that all the believing world needs to hear, for apathy inside our present-day, entertainment-addicted society is all but choking out the Body of Christ. Recognizing our failures individually and waking up to our spiritual paralysis corporately is essential if we’re to serve our Head as we ought.
Of the many chapters that came like a punch to the gut for me, “The Future” hit me the hardest. In this chapter, Lewis (through the voice of Screwtape) describes how the future by its very nature of vagueness and uncertainly is as deadly to a believer’s true future as anything, for when a person dwells on the unknown, he tends to season his musings with either ungrounded dread or unabashed hope, both of which are so distant from true, godly faith that they suck the vitality right out of a person. Aspirations for the future oftentimes remain merely that, aspirations, and the person whose mind is always stuck on the “someday” often completely ignores what’s occurring right now in the “today.” For me, this danger is best evidenced in my own devotional life, where I study the Word for what I can teach from it to others “someday,” rather than for what I can apply from it to my own life “today.”
If you’ve never read The Screwtape Letters, I place it high on my list of required reading for the believer. As light as the reading might appear at first glance, however, be prepared for some pretty heavy, convicting lessons.