Posted by: Nathan | August 13, 2008

The End of Screwtape

I just finished my second trip through Clive Staples Lewis’ masterpiece The Screwtape Letters. I could write a post on each section, I suppose. The insights, thoughts, and humor Lewis provides are top notch. By shifting the reader’s point of view to that of a demon trying to entice a person, the reader suddenly sees squiself in a new light, which often adds clarity to the murky situations that face us daily.

Although any chapter is worthy of accolades, my favorite is the final one. [Slight spoiler alert!] Wormwood has failed his task, and his patient has died a Christian. Screwtape takes the reader through this moment of hellish failure. Pardon the length of this quote, but it’s worth the time to read it:

As [the patient] saw you [Wormwood], he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs*. The degradation of it!–that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange. He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not “Who are you?” but “So it was you all the time.” All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories. The dim consciousness of friends about him which had haunted his solitudes from infancy was now at last explained; that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered. Recognition made him free of their company almost before the limbs of his corpse became quiet. Only you were left outside.

He saw not only Them; he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. You would like, if you could, to interpret the patient’s prostration in the Presence, his self-abhorrence and utter knowledge of his sins (yes, Wormwood, a clearer knowledge even than yours) on the analogy of your own choking and paralysing sensations when you encounter the deadly air that breathes from the heart of Heaven. But it’s all nonsense. Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure. All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at the door… (173-175)

Among the many admirable qualities of Lewis’ writing is his spellbinding ability to make me desire heaven. Whether it’s Reepicheep’s voyage to Aslan’s Country in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the “Further up and further in!” of The Last Battle, or pretty much all of The Great Divorce, Lewis evokes a heaven for which I long. Even this tiny glimpse of Glory sets my heart ablaze. Screwtape is a tremendous work. I hope you read it and enjoy it as much as I do.

*Wormwood’s patient dies in a bombing raid during World War II.

Work cited: Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for a great post, Nathan. I, too, find the Heaven Lewis describes desirable. I find a lot of Lewis seeping through Andrew Peterson’s “A Far Country,” too, a CD to which I have been listening repeatedly since early July.

    In my heart and my head, I know that Heaven is going to be perfect – so much more perfect than we could ever imagine. Nevertheless, it makes it much more exciting to think about Heaven in the terms above and elsewhere in Lewis’ work.


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