Early in my walk with Christ, I suffered continually from various temptations. Multiple priests recommended I read The Screwtape Letters, where C.S. Lewis imagines how the demons tempt us to sin. The book helped me understand how serious spiritual warfare really is.
Hiding death through comfort
How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which was enforced. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.
When death is hidden, you don’t have to think about your life, and when you don’t have to think about your life, you don’t worry about what will happen to your soul after you die. Compare that state of affairs to the monastics, who keep death close, sometimes by storing and viewing the skulls of the monks who died before them. The more Satan can conceal death from you, the less likely you’ll be concerned about your salvation.
Distraction separates you from God
Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to [someone] than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.
If only we could go back to an era where pamphlets occupied our attention! Now, thanks to the internet and smartphone, we can browse through photos, videos, and low-effort content all day without even using our minds. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years, spent mostly in front of a screen. If we’re lucky enough, we can open our eyes before it’s too late and wean ourselves away from that which fails to nourish our souls.
Why God withdraws from new converts
He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayer offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.
He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we [the demons] do to vice. He wants them to learn to talk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.
This happened to me. When I first came to God, the grace was overflowing in spite of still possessing beliefs, thoughts, and habits that were conducive to sin. I was on cloud nine yet knew practically nothing and wasn’t even receiving communion. In time, God removed the lofty feelings and allowed me to start working on all my problems and sins one at a time, at a level where I never felt overwhelmed or in crisis.
If I stopped progressing at the moment God entered my life, my virtue would be quite small. It’s through my daily spiritual work, often in dryness, that I am able to ascend closer to God by using the will and conscience He gave me.
The descent into hell is gradual
It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is not better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Committing small sins is often combined with Satan’s lie of “moderation.” He will have you convinced that a little bit of sex or masturbation is okay, a little bit of status-seeking is okay, and next thing you know, your time on this earth is finished and Satan comes to collect your soul. “But I didn’t know a little bit of sex is bad!” Yes you did, but you didn’t want to listen, and allowed your pride and ego to make all manner of exceptions, deluding yourself into thinking that an expensive bill would never come due.
You are “yourself” only when you serve God
…when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.
A woman does online pornography because she believes displaying her naked body to men allows her to express her “true self.” This is a lie. Your true self is being in communion with God as He originally created you, not serving the will of Satan.
Devout Christians want to primarily serve God and allow their faith to be who they really are without attempting to select a worldly identity and evaluate if it is “natural” or “biological.” If you’re using your body or hobbies to define yourself, I would wonder if you even depend on God at all.
Worldly success bonds you to Satan
[If] the [middle-aged] years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. 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 pressures of absorbing and agreeable work, are building 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.
If worldly people call me “successful” then I must assume that I’m serving Satan instead of God. They see me as being of the world, in possession of various accolades and possessions that are coveted by those who also prize the world. Neither my work nor my achievements should ever garner acclaim by the multitude, and if they do, I must have made a wrong turn and forsaken God in exchange for earthly treasures.
Don’t seek heaven on earth
So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or ‘science’ or psychology, or what not.
Man was once in Paradise and so we desperately long to go back, but the return will not happen in this life or on this earth, and any attempt to seek it here, whether it be through politics or ideology, is demonic. Ask God to help you endure the trials of this world, keep your faith steadfast, and you will experience the Kingdom once you pass the test of earthly existence.
Overall, The Screwtape Letters helped me realize that the demons will battle for my soul as long as I live. They have nothing else to do but to use me and other humans to spite God. Nothing personal, I suppose. I lament that I have to fight these creatures for the rest of my days, but fight them I will.
Learn More: The Screwtape Letters on Amazon