Classics are classics for a reason. Many pastors and theologians had recommended Lewis’s Screwtape Letters to me before I got around to reading it. I wish I would have read it sooner. For me, this is where Lewis’s understanding of indwelling sin and the potential workings of evil come beautifully to the fore. It should be (and often is) considered required reading for any Christian. Below you’ll find my favorite quotes.
There are almost too many to share. But I’ll try to limit myself here to 10-15. Note that these quotes are from one devil (or demon) to another. If you aren’t aware of that when you look at these quotes, you’ll be terribly confused! Oftentimes the “they” or “them” in these quotes refers to humans in general.
- “Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things.”
- “They constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”
- “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.”
- “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”
- “The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.”
- “All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.”
- “Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.”
- “We want cattle who can finally become food; He [God] 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.”
- “All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.”
- “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
- “The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own.”
- “Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
- “The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours.”
- “The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so.”
- “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it,” while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.”
- “The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighbourhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.”
What I Would Have Liked
Hard to offer criticism on a classic, of course. But I think it’s important for readers to remember that this is a work of fiction. That doesn’t, by any means, discredit the truth it offers, but I always encourage readers to measure insights or claims next to Scripture. I would also say that this book is particularly helpful for those in the trenches of spiritual warfare . . . which is all of us. But when you’re struggling intensely, evil is close at hand. And I found that sections of this book helped me consider how I might be attacked, and where in Scripture I needed to turn to rehearse the truth.
Should You Read It?
Yes. No questions asked. Everything Christian should read this. It’s Lewis at his most insightful, in my opinion.
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