The great British writer C. S. Lewis wrote (in the midst of World War II) an intriguing book entitled The Screwtape Letters. The book, one of his most popular works, consists of letters written by a major devil, Screwtape, to his nephew devil, Wormwood. He advises the younger devil on how to best tempt a Christian man (referred to as the Patient) into sin and possibly even lead him into Hell.
Screwtape advises Wormwood to convince the Patient that religion is an internal spiritual thing rather than an outward way of being in the world. He should also persuade the Patient to believe that he is better than his fellow churchgoers. In addition, Wormwood should work hard to get the man to marry a woman who will have a very negative impact on his life and faith. I won’t tell you how the story ends. But the book made a deep impression on me when I read it as a college student many years ago.
Years later, with Lewis’ book in mind, I wrote a short reflection entitled “If I Were the Evil Spirit.” It was included in my book, Rummaging for God. Here are some excerpts from that reflection.
“If I were the Evil Spirit, I would work very hard to prevent good people from doing good things. What tactics would I use? I would make evil attractive. I would make it easy to do. I would make evil look natural and fun. On the other hand, I would make goodness look unattractive and difficult to do. I would make goodness look unnatural and boring.
If I were the Evil Spirit, I would be persistent. I would never give up. I would never leave good people alone. I would often make use of one of my most effective ploys: discouragement. If I couldn’t get good people to actually engage in evil acts, I would discourage them from engaging in good acts. How? By whispering in their ear things like this: “You are only one person, you know… what good can you do?… Christianity has been tried and it has failed… why waste your time with it?”
If I were the Evil Spirit, I would put in long hours convincing people to fear and mistrust everyone and everything. I would split good people into factions. How would I accomplish that? I would rely a lot on basic human insecurity and low self-esteem. These have proven effective throughout human history for unleashing all kinds of evil—even entire evil empires! I would also distract good people from doing good things. I would draw their attention to petty things. I would get them to focus more on their personal appearance than the poor in their midst. I would convince them that non-essentials were essentials, institutions mattered more than individuals, and personal freedom always superseded the common good.
If I were the Evil Spirit, I would convince people that God does not exist. If that proves impossible, then I would tell them that God is far, far away and is not interested in them at all. I would say to people, “Do you really think God cares one iota about your puny little life?” I would also argue that God holds grudges and never forgets the wrongs they have done. If they say, “But what about the parable of the Prodigal son?” I’d say, “It’s just a story. Nothing more than wishful thinking.” I would also convince people that they are alone in the world. I would whisper, “No one can possibly understand what you’re thinking and feeling.” Isolating people from one another is one of my most effective tactics.
If I were the Evil Spirit I would have my work cut out for me. My job would be difficult, yes, but far from impossible.”
C. S. Lewis said that writing The Screwtape Letters was “not fun” for him. Maybe reading this reflection was “not fun” for you. So let me close with this beautiful insight from the book. At one point, Screwtape and Wormwood reflect on God’s great love for humankind. Neither devil can comprehend why God loves human beings so unendingly and so completely. It’s ironic, I thought: The evil spirits seem to appreciate God’s great love for humans more than humans do! Amen.
Would any of the Evil Spirit’s tactics work on you?
What other tactics do you think the Evil Spirit uses?
PS: Once again I am posting this reflection on Sunday (July 10th) hoping it arrives to you by Monday or Tuesday.
As Christians, we believe Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to be with us always. Let us conclude today’s reflection by praying these beautiful words to the Holy Spirit. The song is entitled simply, “Welcome, Hoy Spirit.” May the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the flowing water, bring you peace and courage this day.
I hope many of you will respond below to today’s reflection. Your simple additions and profound insights enrich my blog! Thank you!