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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the death of two notable people: John F. Kennedy and C. S. Lewis, who died within hours of each other. Understandably, JFK got all the press, but it’s arguable that in the long run the Oxford Don and author of such works as The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters will have the greater impact.
In honor of Lewis, Breakpoint, with Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, has been reflecting on Lewis’s insights and influence. One of his greatest insights in Screwtape, a collection of letters from a senior demon to his nephew on the art of corrupting humans, has to do with what Lewis called, “the cure of souls, the ministry of instructing people in the life of grace and sanctification.” It is deep stuff and worthy of your reflection. I quote the relevant part here.
One of the clearest examples is Lewis’ treatment of the role of feelings in the Christian life. For example, Screwtape tells Wormwood that if he can’t keep his “patient” from praying, he should strive to ensure that he “[estimates] the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.”
That’s because the emphasis on feelings leads us to turn our gaze away from God and toward ourselves.
Similarly, Screwtape rebukes Wormwood for thinking that the “patient’s” spiritual dry spell is evidence of a lack of faith. As he tells his diabolical apprentice, “It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that [the patient] is growing into the sort of creature [God] wants [him] to be.”
In the voice of Screwtape, Lewis describes the redemptive power of suffering and feelings of desolation in some of the most beautiful language he ever committed to paper: “[The Devil’s] cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will [that is, God’s will] looks round upon a universe from which every trace of [God] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
This is profound stuff, the stuff of life as most Christians actually live it. Lewis was nothing if not realistic about the challenges Christians face in the life of grace. He understood and explained that this life was a reclamation project, not a remodeling.
That’s because our capacity for self-deception is so great that God must resort to what Lewis once called a “severe mercy” to overcome it. And that’s the subject of his wonderful poem “As the Ruin Falls,” which I’d like you to hear:
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek –
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.
One of the hardest yet most important things you and I will ever do in the spiritual life is learn to bless God as the ruins of our old man, the remains of the sinful nature, fall around us. Lewis saw that more clearly than most and is worth remembering for it.