Reformed Quarterly Volume 9, Issue 2
Dr. Knox Chamlin is professor of New Testament at RTS. He is co-author of Proclaiming the New Testament: Romans and author of a commentary on Matthew, which is included in the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1989).
“Speak of the devil!” That is just what people are doing nowadays with the publication of Frank Peretti’s two books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness.
To join comedian Flip Wilson in saying “The devil made me do it!” is a serious denial of personal responsibility. But to be oblivious to the devil’s assaults is equally dangerous. For to become a Christian is to be summoned into combat against Satan (a name that means “adversary”), together with the malevolent powers at his command (Eph 2:2; 6:11-12).
Of all literature, the Scriptures themselves are, of course, our most potent weapon (see Matt 4:1-11). But the writings of C.S. Lewis also offer help for the conflict. His book, The Screwtape Letters, is especially instructive. Here a senior demon named Screwtape offers counsel to his nephew Wormwood, who is at work upon his first “patient,” a new Christian. In the correspondence, all values are turned upside down: the “Enemy” is God, and Satan is “Our Father Below.”
The Devil’s Objective
Satan and his underlings long to destroy human beings, to undo what God has done. Wormwood is “delirious with joy” over the outbreak of the Second World War. Screwtape replies: “For the first time in your career you have tasted the wine which is the reward of all our labours – the anguish and bewilderment of a human soul.”
God’s purpose, as Screwtape recognizes, is just the opposite: “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.”
Therefore, counsels Screwtape, “the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. 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 into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.”
The Devil’s Weapon
The devil pursues that goal by a manifold Lie (see John 8:44). He spreads deceptions about himself. In some cases, it is preferable to keep victims in ignorance of the demons’ existence. But distortions may be as effective as disbelief. Says Screwtape: “If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that…he therefore cannot believe in you.” Or it may be effective to portray Satan as a splendid or even heroic figure. In the Narnian Chronicles, Lewis’ children’s stories, witches are queens whose dazzling beauty (more than enough to win a Miss America contest) masks their essential evil. The white witch of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe easily brings Edmund under her spell; the green witch of The Silver Chair almost overpowers Prince Rilian, Puddleglum and the children by her sweet voice and soft enchantment – and only transforms herself into a serpent when all else fails.
As in the Garden (Gen 3:1-4), the devil seeks to pervert the truth. In The Silver Chair, the witch tries to convince Puddleglum and the children that Underland is the only real world, that their beliefs about the Upper World, the sun and Aslan, are only “a pretty make-believe.” Screwtape counsels Wormwood: “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false,’ but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical,’ ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary,’ ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless.’ Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church….”
“The trouble about argument,” continues Screwtape, “is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too… By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?”
If we doubt the effectiveness of Satanic propaganda, let us consider contemporary notions about such concepts as “meekness,” “virginity,” “monogamy,” “courtesy,” and “Puritan.”
The devil’s favorite deception about Christ is subtle imitation (see Matt 24:4-5; 2 Thess 2:8-12). In the concluding Narnian Chronicle, The Last Battle, the “false prophet” is an ape named Shift (to “ape” is to imitate), and the “beast” is a donkey named Puzzle (see Rev 13). Shift adorns Puzzle in the skin of a lion, and presents him in semi-darkness, to dupe the Narnians into thinking that the true King, the great lion Aslan, has returned. The creatures are also taught that Aslan and Tash, the false god of Calormen, are really one and the same — Tashlan.
Finally, Satan assists his victims in cultivating distorted ideas about themselves. Writes Screwtape: “You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.” Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, and Rabidash in The Horse and His Boy, both take themselves very seriously and are utterly ridiculous to everyone else. Even thoughts about God can serve this strategy, as Screwtape perceives: “I have explained that you can weaken his prayers by diverting his attention from the Enemy Himself to his own states of mind about the Enemy…. If ever he consciously directs his prayers ‘Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be,’ our situation is, for the moment, desperate.”
Christ’s Triumph over Satan
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the great lion Aslan, who stands for the Lion of Judah, offers his life in place of the traitor Edmund. The witch, invoking “deep magic from the dawn of time,” slays Aslan on the stone table. But Aslan invokes a “deeper magic from before the dawn of time,” rises from the dead and breaks the curse of the law (Gal 3:13) — signalled by the cracking of the stone table.
Satan is a conquered foe (Rev 12:1-17). He is a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) because he is a wounded lion, destined for destruction (see 1 Cor 2:6-8). Therefore, while we must not imagine the devil to be a comic figure, we do have the right to mock him. The frontispiece of The Screwtape Letters contains a quotation from Martin Luther: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” We invoke the blood of Christ over Satan when he taunts us and tempts us and seeks to crush us under guilt for past sins (see Col 2:11-15).
The Renewal of the Mind
To prepare them for battle against the enemy, God enables his children to think (Rom 12:2). Says Screwtape: “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” Let us ponder and appropriate the victory that Christ won at the Cross. Let us also contemplate what Satan purposes to do to his victims – to destroy their personhood and to devour them like food (1 Pet 5:8). Let us recall what happened to Professor Weston in Lewis’ Perelandra: by the end of the story, he has become an “un-man.” In The Great Divorce, the inhabitants of hell are but “shades” of their former selves.
In assaulting Satan, who blinds people to truth, God discloses the manifold truth of Christ by the agency of the Spirit (see 2 Cor 4:3-6; 1 Cor 2:6-16). In The Silver Chair, Aslan impresses upon Jill the importance of his instructions: “Remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.” We are reminded of the Torah that God imparted to his covenant people (see Deut 6:4-9; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1).
The Obedience of the Will
Victory over the devil lies precisely along the path of obedience to Christ the King. The test of whether we have reasoned well is whether we behave well (see Eph 4:17-19). Screwtape urges Wormwood to help shove the man’s virtues into the fantasy, and his vices into the will; the reverse must at all costs be avoided. Knowing of Englishmen’s terror amid World War II, Screwtape muses: “He [God] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”
Lewis strongly believed that Christian living was chiefly a matter of daily obedience in the face of a multitude of seemingly small decisions. In The Silver Chair, Jill’s neglect of the “four signs” brings repeated setbacks; in the hour of supreme peril, only agonized obedience to the last of the instructions averts disaster. In The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan commands Digory to bring him a single apple from a walled garden. Digory’s mother is dying back in England; he knows that an apple from this garden would heal her. Jadis the witch meets him in the garden (as the serpent had met Eve) and plies him with the cleverest imaginable temptations. But Digory resists the pressure, obeys Aslan (“I’ve brought you the apple you wanted, sir”), and in the end his mother’s life is saved.
The Prospects for the Believer
The war goes on. Lewis’ writings witness to the resilience of evil. Evil is like nut grass in a rose garden; it rears its ugly head over and over again. In the space trilogy, the demons that exert their powers in Out of the Silent Planet, continue to do so in Perelandra and in That Hideous Strength. Even when their human agencies (Weston, and the men of the N.I.C.E.) perish – to the demons’ delight, we may be sure – the demons remain at large. Throughout the seven Narnian Chronicles the children must do constant battle against the powers of darkness – from Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew to Shift in The Last Battle. At the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the white witch perishes, but the green witch of The Silver Chairproves herself a worthy successor.
But together with the prospect of continuing warfare, there is the promise of weaponry from the triune God (Eph 6:10-18). Screwtape calls the Holy Spirit an “as-phyxiating cloud” about the Christian, his most successful defense in face of temptation. Aslan sends forth Peter and Edmund to do battle in his Name, but only He can conquer the white witch. Only He can see into the future and give the “four signs” which will eventually rescue Prince Rilian. In The Last Battle, bound to a tree, with all hope gone and Narnia doomed, Prince Tirian cries out to Aslan for help. He comes – and leads his followers to final victory.
The best is yet to be. Screwtape howls his dismay when, in a bomb blast, the patient slips through Wormwood’s fingers and is ushered into the heavenly glory. “The degradation of it! – that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower.” But it is not just angels whom the man beholds. “This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look at Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man.”
Summer Reading from the Works of C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis denied that he was a theologian; yet, he is often called the most persuasive Christian apologist of the 20th century. “He covered the whole field of theology in popular, understandable language” — proof to Christian writer Elisabeth Elliot “that he understood it better than many theologians.”
As you explore Lewis’ writings, some of which are listed below, remember not to look at him (a “cult of Lewis” would have disgusted him), but rather to look along Lewis at something infinitely more important — God’s truth and ultimately God himself, the place of genuine joy.
CHRISTIAN BELIEF AND BEHAVIOR:
LEWIS’ PERSONAL SPIRITUAL PILGRIMAGE: