Dear Wormwood: Screwtape’s Letter on Bible Study
My Dear Wormwood,
You report in your last letter that your patient intends to purchase a “good study bible” with the determination to begin regular readings. My dear nephew, calm yourself, as you seem rather troubled by this decision. If well managed, there is no cause for concern. You fail to remember the countless patients, firmly in the grasp of our father below, who own multiple copies of that ancient book.
I would in fact go as far as to advise you to encourage both the purchase and the intended readings. You see, your influence in how your patient reads the book can be very useful to your mission. Instead of weaning the ambition, make it your aim to twist her motivation for reading. Make it all about her—her determination to be a “good Christian,” the application of truth to her life, the importance of gaining the Enemy’s favor. Whatever it may be, at no point should knowledge of the Enemy Himself be the goal.
Allow me to explain. I once had a patient who began to claim allegiance to the Enemy. Rather than discourage the profession, I gradually molded her understanding of Christianity to that sugary version that focuses strictly on the self. She was made to see her faith as merely ethical—her focus on kindness and fair treatment of others. This, she believed, was the primary objective of the faith; she saw it as the embodiment of the Enemy's very nature—an unconditional love that excuses all terms and conditions for the sake of human happiness and fulfillment. Certain of this supposition, she read the Book mostly to affirm her view. Delightful!
You begin to see my point, I hope. Rather than dissuade the readings, make the readings about her. Let every passage be application for her life rather than knowledge of the Enemy and His work. By this, she will steadily restrict herself to the “relevant passages” and will seek to understand them primarily for their usefulness to her life. In so doing, she becomes the central agent of her own change and yet barely changes since she remains anemic and infantile in her understanding of the truth. The possible results are too delicious to consider: discouragement, indifference, guilt, justification of sin, you name it!
In all this, always remember that the Enemy means for the human creature to know Him; worse still, He intends for them to rely on Him for everything. One ancient writer claims that even the faith to believe comes as a gift from Him. And once belief has come, it is the Enemy Himself who enables the creature to grow. It would almost seem as though He “seals them” in Himself, woos their affections, transforms their minds, and turns their hopes from the momentary joys of this life to the “surpassing glory that awaits.”
Pardon my mention of these things, Wormwood. I hate even to write them. But they must be said for that is in fact what that Book claims. And know for certain that every inch of it drips with these vexatious assertions! To our Enemy, there is no “irrelevant” portion to these Writings. They ALL speak of HIM! Each part echoes with that horrid news of His salvation of the human creature from His own wrath, sin and eternal death.
That, Wormwood, is why I charge you to keep your Patient’s attention away from the Enemy and largely on herself! Let her “study” be self-centered and petty; and then lukewarm and halfhearted until she gives it up all together for something more interesting—but always resolving to “get back to it.” Do this nephew, and prove yourself useful to the cause.
Your affectionate uncle,
* This post is inspired by C.S. Lewis' 1942 satirical book on demonic temptation and God's triumph, The Screwtape Letters.