10 Quotes from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters that Could Give You Chills

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C.S. Lewis may not be a Catholic author, but that hasn’t stopped his work from being incredibly impactful in the Catholic sphere. Though best known for his fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis also wrote many more theologically minded pieces, including Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.

First published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters is a fictional novel that uses satire to address theological ideas. The novel is written as a series of letters from a senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. In each letter, Screwtape counsels his inexperienced nephew on a new way to tempt his “human patient” away from God.

Though written from the perspective of the demon Screwtape, the book contains many beautiful insights on God and heaven as well as many bone-chilling observations about the nature of temptations, sin, and hell. Here are ten quotes from the novel that will leave the hairs on your arms standing on end.

I love this quote because it feels so applicable to our modern world. The quote comes from a section in the novel where Screwtape is explaining to his nephew the importance of filling the world with Noise. Certainly, noise is everywhere these days, found in the honking of horns, the squealing of tires, the buzz of meaningless conversation, the endless binging of Netflix shows and the hours spent on Facebook. Noise doesn’t have to be merely auditory: in this context noise is whatever distracts us from the most important things in life and draws us away from God. 

Just like the seasons of fall, winter, spring, and summer that come and go each year, the liturgical seasons of our Church have a beautiful rhythm to them. Advent gives way to Christmas, which passes into Ordinary Time, then Lent, then Easter, and back to Ordinary Time again before returning to Advent in a timeless, never ending cycle. Sprinkled throughout are the various feast days and solemnities of our Church.

Just as embracing the seasons can bring joy to our lives, embracing the liturgical seasons can bring a lot of peace and infuse our prayer lives with something special—something almost ethereal, full of mystery, light, and grace.

This quote is such a wonderful explanation of the confusion surrounding our free will, and God’s omnipetence. As Catholics, we do not believe in predestination. That is to say, we don’t believe that God preordained events to happen or that some people are destined for heaven and others for hell. But how do we balance the idea that we freely choose our own paths, with the knowledge that God already knows exactly what we will choose? Lewis lays it out here with startling simplicity. 

Why are we so obsessed with the future? It’s not uncommon to hear somebody wistfully explain that someday things will be better, or that someday, when things are easier—more perfect—they will finally give up their sins and take real steps towards becoming the person God created them to be. This kind of thinking causes us to ignore the gifts that God has given us today. By living our lives for the future, we can forget that the present is where life is lived, and create for ourselves an idol out of our dreams.

There is something so beautifully profound about this statement. The longer I think about it, the more there is to unravel, but the most important observation, I believe, is this: the present is the only point in time we can affect. The past is gone. We can never change it. The future doesn’t exist, notionally. After all, by the time we reach the “future,” it will simply be the present. In other words, the present is the only time in which we can find and experience God, and it is the only time that we can do as He asks and love the people around us.

It’s so easy to slip into the temptation of doing nothing: to lose an entire day watching Netflix or scrolling our newsfeeds. Of course there is nothing wrong with the simple pleasure of being entertained, perhaps by a movie or a show that we really like, or with checking in on our friends and family, or even enjoying the beautiful photography of a stranger on Instagram. The problem is when these things become mindless: when we use them to try to fill up that gnawing hole inside of us that only God can fill. 

This quote gives me the chills everytime I read it, because it really does explain a rather shocking reality: none of us are guaranteed heaven. It reminds me of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

We cannot expect the road to heaven to be easy. In fact, Jesus guarantees that it won’t be. The easiest way for the Enemy to tempt us and guide us to Hell, is to give us no indication whatsoever that we are headed there.

Although the fictional demon Screwtape meant through this quote to counsel his nephew on how to tempt and torment a human, I believe that Lewis meant to give his readers a bit of hope and perspective. Negativity is easy: to be caught up in fears and anxieties and dread the future. But the truth is, everything we fear cannot possibly happen. It is easier to carry the cross of the present—whatever that might be—than to shoulder a thousand hypothetical crosses that may never come. The future will take care of itself. Focus your attention instead on today.

How often do we mistake self-deprecation for humility? The truth is, God doesn’t want us to hate ourselves. Humility doesn’t mean believing ourselves to be less than we are. Poor self-esteem is really just another version of pride. True humility is more about turning our gaze outwards. It’s about thinking of ourselves less often and of others more. When we are truly humble we can appreciate the gifts that God has given to us, while accepting—and working towards improving—our flaws. In that sense, humility is self-knowledge in its highest form.

In her journals, Mother Teresa revealed that she had been plagued with spiritual dryness for fifty years from around 1946 until her death, she did not feel the presence of God! And yet, she did his will anyway.

This is what it means to be a saint. This is how we become holy. Being Catholic isn’t about a “feeling.” No matter how serious we are about our faith, we will all experience periods of dryness—times when our prayers seem to go unanswered or when the fire we once had for our God burns low. But it is in these times when we truly grow. By loving God when it is most difficult, we learn to love him for his sake, rather than for what he can do for us. 

Featured Image: Wikimedia commons.

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