Friday with Screwtape 5 (series)
In this letter to his devilish nephew, Screwtape has decided to comment on the conditions for corruption presented by the war we know as War World II. At the time of its writing, the war was fully engaged. Believe it or not, Screwtape is concerned about the effects of the war as it will likely turn more people toward God.
Consider to what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe he is going to live forever. (p. 23-24)
I know that Scabtree and others have seen in wars a great opportunity for attacks on faith, but I think that view was exaggerated. The Enemy’s human partisans have all been plainly told by Him that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption; so that a faith which is destroyed by a war or a pestilence cannot really have been worth the trouble of destroying.
There is a lot in play in this quote. That’s one of the things I like about Lewis, he can say so much in so few words.
Lewis’ basic idea here is that war and hardship are more often used by God to draw people to himself than they are effective in driving people from Him. This is not to say that Lewis thought war was a good thing, just that he saw in all the carnage the way in which God turns perverse situations to his own purpose. He is ultimately optimistic that even in the direst of circumstances, God’s good purpose will be fulfilled.
The parallel idea is a look at the way we deal with our elderly and dying. It seems that Lewis is not a fan of the way we often keep from our dying that they are dying. It isn’t considered polite conversation, I suppose. The problem, of course, is that we don’t allow the dying to acknowledge the great reality of our existence: death comes to every person, and after that we come face to face with our Creator.
Why is it that we don’t talk more openly about death with those who are dying? Perhaps it is that we, those who are alive and well, are uncomfortable with the topic. So, in the name of not upsetting our loved ones, we don’t talk about death and dying. The result of this reluctance is that we don’t talk about an important part of human existence, that is, what comes after this life.
The last paragraph of this quote speaks of suffering. Those of us who follow Christ know that suffering is normal, and produces spiritual growth in us.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1–5, ESV)