Friday, August 17, 2012

We Need a Higher View of Satan: Prefatory Response to The Screwtape Letters (Part 2)

The following post is the second and last prefatory remark I will make about C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. God willing, Monday morning I will post a link to Lewis' preface and Chapter One of TSL at the top of my response entitled, Dear Screwtape.

One might argue, and probably correctly, that Lewis did not intend The Screwtape Letters as a monograph upon demonology; however, I suspect that the typical reader of TSL mistakenly presumes that Lewis’ observations about demons are somewhat accurate: “The great Lewis wrote this; it must be right.” That false assumption may seem innocuous, but in actuality TSL misleads readers about demons. Although Lewis’ characterization of demons is hideously magnificent as literary caricature, Screwtape’s and Wormwood’s nature and actions are hardly demonic, certainly not in biblical terms. Lewis’ devilish fiends think and act much more like fallen Adam and Eve than fallen Lucifer and Legion. In truth, Adam and Eve, that is -- we -- no longer need Satanic help for moral misguidance. Moral crookedness arises from our own souls and wills, as Jesus says, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Of course, Satan and demons are not wholly disconnected from the moral sphere. Jesus Christ characterizes Satan in moral terms as the “father of lies” and  original “murderer.” St. John describes the “great red dragon” poised to “devour” the Christ Child upon His birth, thus definitely associating Herod’s bloody infanticide with Satanic influence. And who could doubt that demons influenced Hitler, Stalin, and the bloodiest murderers in world history – American abortionists? But Satan did not murder six million Jews in the Holocaust, ten million dissidents in Russia, or tens of millions of babies in the United States. Fallen human beings committed, and still commit, those murders. And I hesitate to remind our reader, but every millisecond of our lives we teeter on the brink of universal self-murder -- Armageddon by nuclear means. Even if all Satanic power were removed from earth, human beings would still lie and murder because of their inherently evil nature. James, Paul, and Jesus Christ all teach us that humanity is infinitely capable of, and ultimately culpable for, every single sin. Comedians may mock at sin and make us laugh when they say, "the devil made me do it," but God is not mocked. He blames us. "Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel and did not want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes." 

Satan does not send us to Hell; morally speaking, we send ourselves. But Satan’s ultimate interest in lying and murder is not to make us liars and murderers; no, Satan’s greatest desire is to make us worshipers, worshipers of himself. If we would find the Devil and discover who he truly is and what he really does, we would find him neither in Hollywood horror nor The Screwtape Letters, but in temples, mosques, synagogues, and even churches.

Behind all his elaborate designs and demonic devices, above all things –  Satan most passionately desires to be worshiped. Isaiah’s account of the inaugural moment of Lucifer’s fall teaches us that Satan’s ultimate desire and aim is not moral and terrestrial but rather spiritual and celestial: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” Satan’s desire to be worshiped consummates in his very personification, the Anti-Christ. John’s apocalyptic vision of ultimate Satanic lust depicts humanity’s worship of “the beast and his image,” and Paul describes Anti-Christ as he who “exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.” Satan even desires that God would worship him, as he said to Jesus Christ, “fall down and worship me.”

Although we may profit somewhat from The Screwtape Letters, higher wisdom demands that we must relegate Lewis’ depiction of Satan to the genre in which it truly belongs -- fiction -- not just its fictional characters but also its fictional premises and fictional implications regarding the demonic. The only reliable source of truth about Satan is God’s Word, which clearly teaches that Satan’s principal interest and activity is not moral perversion but spiritual prevarication. Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s primary tact is to question the Word of God – “Hath God said?” – and, ultimately, to deny the Word of God – “God hath not said!” Unlike the Holy Spirit who leads God’s people “into all Truth,” Satan is the Unholy Spirit who, “as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness,” still seeks to “beguile” Eve’s descendants by “corrupting their minds” with mistaken ideas about who God is, what He says, and what He does. Satan perpetually “transforms himself into an angel of light,” Paul says, that he might preach “another gospel” about “another Jesus” through “another spirit.” If we are to understand Satan biblically, we need a much “higher” view of Satan than Lewis represents in Wormwood and Screwtape.


Tim Owen said...

Now I know where I get all my brains: from my uncle on my mother's side...through marriage...

This is not a disagreement but an agreement with extenuating comment.

I would argue that Satan, though he does wish to be worshiped (and does so by himself long before we entered the picture), his genuine purpose is to reduce, remove, or manipulate the worship of God. More succinctly put, he thrives on dishonoring God through God's people.

In the garden he twisted the words of scripture and asks 'did God really say...' which revealed Eve's lack of recollection let alone understanding of God's words.

In Job, his intent was to get Job to deny God or to curse Him (Job 1:11, 2:5). I'm certain he would have been happy to have been worshiped, but Satan knows as well as anyone Romans 1, that it is denying God the glory that is due Him and being ungrateful, unthankful, and lovers of self rather than God that catapults us to the debased state bound for the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I would further consider that we have lost all sense of the fear of God and perhaps put a fear of Satan even higher on our list. And what better to promulgate that confusion than the western ideology that "I'd rather rule in hell with satan than serve in heaven" not knowing that there is no ruling of anything in hell.

I agree whole-heartedly that the presence of satan is most seen in the pew. Didn't Jesus teach almost entirely about false conversion (wheat and tares, soils) and when the apostle warned us against itching ears, against apostate, against those who would creep in, wasn't it true that the purpose of those is to lead astray--not to worship satan or sacrifice to idols, but to be slightly wrong, to embrace the fables in place of the truth.

I would dare say that Satan wishes to be worshiped, but he feels at joy when the least of us misremember, misquote, misdirect, misstep, or just miss the mark. (Consider 1 Ch 21:1 as a common case) Otherwise, why would God use him in the lives of the faithful--like Job, like Paul (2Cor 12:7), like Peter (Mr 8:33)--to be sifted--and why would Satan willingly be used but that he so enjoys seeing God NOT get the glory He deserves, that men aware or unaware, think they serve God but are not of Him (Rev 2:9)?

I won't argue your points about TSL, and I will agree we need a more realistic and powerful view of the roaring lion who creeps around, the parader of light. But we also need a lower view of him, knowing that evil is not just sinister but abundantly crafty (2 Cor 2:11). And unfortunately he has two things on most of us: visibility into the spiritual realms (2 Cor 4) and a stark knowledge of scripture and the Holy One.

Thankfully we can overcome him by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. BUT, we cannot love our lives unto the death! (Rev 3:21, 12:11) A small price to pay in the battle for our souls and the reward of a seat with Him in eternity. After all, what is the value of salvation but to gain HIM. There's nothing in heaven worth living for if He is not there...

Hal Brunson said...

Thanks for dropping by. You need to read SL with us.