In one of his most popular books, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis lets the reader eavesdrop on correspondence between a senior and junior devil on the art of temptation. The temptations suggested by the older and more experienced devil are not blatant. One does not want to run the risk of offending and scaring off the “patient.” Screwtape instead suggests more subtle forms of misusing sex and love and indulging in pride, gluttony, and war. Every reader is somewhere in this book.
In the preface to his 1961 edition, Lewis spends close to a dozen pages explaining how he came to write the book as well as addressing a number of theories proposed by others. In one paragraph, he refers to a compliment he has received for the book. It seems a number of readers concluded that only a well-seasoned, long time follower of the Christian faith could have such insights into the evil workings of the human heart. With a reference to a version of Psalm 36:1, Lewis corrects this notion:
“Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forget that there is an equally reliable, though less credible, way of learning how temptation works. ‘My heart’ — I need no other’s — ‘showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.’”1
Sometimes the answer to the question, “What in the world was he thinking?”, can be answered by, “What in the world was I thinking?”
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9.
- C. S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1961), xiii. Italics in original.