June 9, 2007


Category: Marriage,Theology :: Permalink

More wisdom from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in the form of advice from a senior devil writing to a junior tempter whose “patient” has just become a Christian:

Work hard … on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.  The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.  It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek.  It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together.  In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.

The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants — “sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liasons with the two-legged animals.  Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own.”

And there lies our opportunity.  But also, remember, there lies our danger.  If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt (pp. 17-18; I’ve added paragraph breaks).

Let me first quibble with a couple things in this quotation.  While I understand what Lewis is saying about getting past dependence on emotion, I’m a little leary about Lewis’s love of reason, which shows up strongly in the first letter here, and his perhaps related distrust of emotion.  Even when we persevere in the face of dryness, it seems to me that emotion is still involved, not least the emotion we associate with a longing for joy and a memory of past joy.

I’ll quibble also with Lewis’s emphasis on freedom.  It’s not just freedom God is after, it seems to me.  It’s maturity.  God allows the disappointment and dryness at the outset of our endeavours because he wants us to grow to maturity.  Children have decisions made for them.  They are carried from place to place.  When the chair they’re trying to climb into is too high for them, someone picks them up and puts them into it.  Grown-ups generally have to get into their own chairs, make their own decisions, and so forth.  And God’s goal for us is that we be mature, that we be grown-up.

To that end, He makes life puzzling, so puzzling we just have to give up trying to figure it all out and go and eat and drink and be merry because God has already accepted our works, as Ecclesiastes says.  And to that end, God also allows life to be a vapor so that the great art works of the past decay, so that we lose many of Bach’s great compositions, so that great architecture crumbles and buildings fall down, and things we love change.  That would likely have been the case even apart from the Fall.

Quibbles aside, what struck me as so important about the phenomenon Screwtape mentions here is that it often goes unnoticed.  Well, we all notice it.  We all notice that the job we thought we’d love rapidly becomes drudgery.  As Alexander Schmemann has said, “Every job which has had three Mondays in its history already becomes meaningless, or at least to some extent oppressive.”

We notice that, but we don’t notice it as a general phenomenon.  We feel the disappointment, the dryness, when we buckle down to doing our new job, the job we thought we’d love.  We feel it, as Lewis says, when we get married and start learning to love each other in that new situation.  We feel it sometimes even when we finally start reading a book we’d been hoping to get to for some time.  And we feel it, as Screwtape points out, when we become Christians and start attending church.

We feel it, but we don’t say to ourselves, “Hey, that’s how it is with everything in life.  The initial excitement wears off and we go through a dry period or a series of dry periods.”  Instead, we act as if this disappointment and dryness are surprising (“Oh, no!  What’s happening?  This isn’t what I expected”) and that gives the devil a foothold.

Now if only I could remember all of this the next time it happens.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:44 am | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Disappointment”

  1. Jake Says:

    Good thoughts, John, I like the perspective that offers. Thanks for this.

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