The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is most definitely a timeless classic. This “masterpiece of reverse theology” (Patricia Klein) is genius. Over a year ago, I heard a sermon focused on the twelfth letter from Screwtape to his demon nephew. The demons’ ultimate goal in this letter is to make the Christian lukewarm in his faith – basically taking away his peace and hope…the baseline of his joy. The scripture passage the pastor associated with the sermon was Jeremiah 2:13.
“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Several points from the twelfth letter stood out to me. The demon notes that it doesn’t take one great big glaring sin to make us feel far from God. In fact, a simple “dim uneasiness” that results from a lukewarm faith might be even more effective to pull us away from God.
“…we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately. This dim uneasiness needs careful handling. If it gets too strong it may wake him up and spoil the whole game.
…As this condition becomes more fully established…you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention…You will say that these are very small sins…But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out in to the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.”
Screwtape’s simple goal is to make us lukewarm towards God. Then, our wandering attention allows us to put our hope, and ultimately our trust, elsewhere. Wow…how easily I do settle. This concept of settling for a dim faith reminds me of another C.S. Lewis quote:
“…like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far to easily pleased.”
It is soooo easy for me to be content in a state of dim uneasiness. And settling on a dim faith is plain rotten compared to bathing in the fountain of Living Waters. The broken cisterns of this world – the things we think fulfill us – don’t hold water. At least not Living Water.
Remember – “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.” Many of these broken cisterns that give me temporary satisfaction are not bad in themselves. But they don’t provide the same deep, deep joy and peace as my God of Hope. The water from the broken cisterns is anything that takes the place of God in my life – whether for a moment, a day, or longer. What are the ‘cards’ in your life that carry you away from the light to a place of dim uneasiness? I can think of a few right off the bat.
I bet I don’t have to tell you this, but life is unpredictable. Sometimes, life feels downright unfair. Often, life is difficult and exhausting. Life is also beautiful and a gift to be savored. One of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton, describes life as ‘brutiful’. A state of dim uneasiness is no way to approach this kind of life. Instead of relying on any broken cistern, I know it is in my best interest to seek God and His Spirit to give me peace in the moment, to sooth my soul throughout the day, and give me rest in the night. He is my Living Water and He alone will give me the peace, hope, and joy that He wants nothing more than for me to have.
“O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee…May richer, fuller be…
O light that foll’west all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to thee…May brighter, fairer be…
O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee…Life that shall endless be.”
-“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”; George Mattheson, pub.1882
I’ll take richer, fuller, brighter, and fairer any day.