The Screwtape Letters: Not My Favorite From C.S. Lewis

To be completely honest, I don’t particularly like C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. It’s nothing against Lewis as an author. If anything, he might be my all-time favorite Christian writer.

Between his intellect, wisdom, raw vulnerability, and ability to present complex, confusing, multifaceted, challenging truths in a beautiful and clear way … Lewis’ words have come alongside me during some of my most challenging times.

But I’ve never really resonated with The Screwtape Letters. Or Mere Christianity, actually. (I know. I know. Outside of The Chronicles of Narnia, these are probably his two most popular works. I’m just not particularly drawn to either of them.)

See, both of these books are Christianity 101. Both were written for mass public consumption — Screwtape as a series of newspaper columns published in a popular British newspaper, and Mere was adapted from a series of BBC radio talks. Both were wonderful for their purpose and medium: explaining basic tenants of Christianity, fundamental Christian beliefs, and outlining common struggles, misunderstandings, trials, and temptations that come when a person is genuinely trying to live a Christian life.

I am usually drawn to Lewis’ use of storytelling. I deeply love storytelling’s powerful ability to communicate truth — how we all seem to understand truths of life, death, meaning, and purpose 1,000 times better if they’re told to us in story, than when someone tries to explain them in a way that is cold, dry, and straightforward. And Screwtape is a story, so it should be high on my list.

But the story of how one devil advises and equips another devil to help a young Christian turn from his newfound beliefs … it just doesn’t resonate with me. Part of me is skeptical about attributing too much in life to demonic powers, because it often feels like a cop out — an excuse to blame someone else and not have to take personal responsibility for our actions. But I’m also not going to pretend that Satan isn’t actively at work in our world, slyly trying to convince us that God isn’t real.

Certain insights from Screwtape have proved helpful in resisting temptation and keeping strong in times of opposition. Many individual metaphors from Mere Christianity have offered me incredibly insightful guidance. But I just haven’t connected with the two books as a whole.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready for something more complex than Christianity 101. The foundation is wonderful. It’s critical. But I want to explore the ambiguities. I resonate so much deeper with Lewis’ works on pain and suffering. Hearing him hold firm to theology as his entire world is collapsing around him — feeling the pain, uncertainty, despair, heartbreak, mournful anguish, and still refusing with every fiber of his being to ever turn his back on God. The Problem With Pain, A Grief Observed, The Great Divorce, little Digory sobbing into the arms of the crying lion The Magician’s Nephew. These are the works of Lewis I read when the world around me comes crashing down.

Screwtape is nice. But it’s just a little too basic. I get basic. I’ve done basic. Now I need something messy. Something raw, crying out in anguish, and falling into the arms of a God who declines to provide any one-stop solutions but also refuses to ever abandon you to the abyss.

I want to mourn and cry and curl up into the giant, warm embrace of a strong, powerful lion Christ who is crying right alongside me. And then, after a time, get up and face a very real world head-on. 

Not content with easy platitudes, but taking on the terrifying, challenging, life-flipping challenge of trying to live like Christ — and put Christ at the center of all I do — even, or maybe especially, during those times when everything around me feels, for this moment, like it is crashing down.

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