Archives for posts with tag: C. S. Lewis

lay down your arms

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longing for home

I am listening to the audiobook The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. i should explain that this book is a series of letters written by an older devil to a young tempter. because of that, any references to the “Enemy” are references to God; and “Our Father Below” is Satan. this excerpt is taken from the 8th letter in the book.

My Dear Wormwood,
So you “have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away”, have you? Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?
Humans are amphibians–half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirt can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation–the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life–his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional ad bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty, The dryness and dulness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make good use of it.
To decide what the best use of it is, you must as what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some o His special favorites have gone though longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is a quite different thing. One must ace the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being freedom is not mere propaganda, but appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself–creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food: He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled: He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepares to do a little over-riding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs–to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag out patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.