By Pastor Jenna Couch Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee
If you had to answer the question, “What kinds of things are you tempted by in this world,” how would you answer?
Maybe some would be able to name the temptation right away, while others might have to think about it.
There are many temptations in this world everyday; some are easy to resist, while others may be harder. But, temptation is everywhere.
Some of the pastors in the Jubilee Conference are involved in a book study in Cedar Falls. We just started “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.
If you’ve never read it before, it’s a chilling but fascinating story. It’s about two devils from the underworld; Screwtape, who is writing letters to his nephew Wormwood, advising him on how to properly tempt a “patient” as they call him. This “patient” starts out as an atheist, which makes it easier for Wormwood to manipulate his thoughts, but so far in the first seven letters, the “patient” became a Christian, which grieved Wormwood and his uncle, but they aren’t letting up.
The advice that is given in these letters is utterly disturbing, but it gives the reader quite a bit of foresight about how the temptation process works. An overarching theme that Screwtape gives his nephew is to continue to find ways to get the “patient” to turn in on himself. As uncomfortable as some of this is to read, it’s a pretty adequate description of the ways in which temptations can pull us away from God and turn us in on ourselves. And when we turn in on ourselves, we die. Sooner or later, we die a rather lonely death because life had been consumed with 1 person; ourselves.
I realize that this book probably isn’t sounding like a great book for a pastor, or Christian for that matter, to be reading, but I promise you….there is MUCH Gospel to be proclaimed in this book. Even while Screwtape would have his nephew Wormwood believe that everything God is and stands for is to be considered The Enemy, as God is frequently referred to in this book; what he is portraying as bad or opposing qualities, we uphold as Holy.
I’d like to share an excerpt from the book that better conveys what I’m talking about here.
“To us, a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.
But the obedience which [God] demands of its [humans] is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for [humans] and His service being perfect freedom is not (as one would gladly believe) more propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become [children.] 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; [God] wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.” (C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, pp.38-39).
Here, Screwtape is lamenting to Wormwood about how God operates in this world. Their goal is to try to convince their “patient” that nothing and no one else in the world matters more than their patient’s own feelings or thoughts. They know that God is genuine, and that God calls people to places bigger than themselves. And that infuriates them. They can’t compete with benevolence and God’s call to people thinking outside of themselves. That thwarts their evil plot to dominate people with their own twisted selfishness.
Whatever temptations that are out there; they are a part of life, but they are something wholly other than what God has intended for us as God’s children.
Now, while C.S. Lewis’ book is fiction, there is beautiful truth in the way he describes God. God IS overflowing. God does call us to serve and God has united us together as part of creation through Christ. And that’s the “good news” that Jesus went around Galilee proclaiming. Jesus called people to repent and to believe. Both are things that render Screwtape and Wormwood utterly powerless.
Jesus is still very present in this world today, still proclaiming the message to us that God’s kingdom has come near; calling us to repent and believe in the Good News. As the Screwtape letters indicate; there is far more power in belief in God than in temptation; for they are utterly powerless against God and God’s work through us.
So when we pray later today, and week after week “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil,” we pray with a confidence that no power on earth can ever compete with a God whose giving for creation is overflowing with love.