Last month I spent four Tuesday evenings with a motley crew of Kingsview members discussing The Screwtape Letters for our first summer book club. This Christian classic is a series of fictional letters from a senior devil named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. What C.S. Lewis is able to do as author is to describe the challenges and temptations of the Christian life from the perspective of the demons. In one key lesson for Wormwood, Screwtape reminds his nephew that virtue and vice only really happen when they become habits that touch our wills. That is, it’s only when virtue or vice enter our hearts and take root that we are truly following God or disobeying him.
The demonic strategy is to make sure that virtue always is a faint idea that we’ll get around to later. The idea is to keep our kindness as a kind of a general kindness that applies to “our fellow humans” or our love to “our fellow citizens” but seldom does it actually take the form of daily habits and actions toward those we see every day. Screwtape writes:
“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” (letter 6).
This is, of course, our danger as well in learning more about virtue & vice. If they remain concepts in our minds and if they are things we would like to either examine (vices) or begin to practice (virtues) “sometime soon”, there is a very high likelihood we will never root out the vices nor instill the virtues in our hearts. This is why we need each other! God de-signed the church to be a place where the honesty, grace and love needed to overcome vice and to walk in virtue could be given and received by people who knew themselves as God’s family.
I want to encourage you to take some time over the summer to try one or two of the suggested exercises we’ll give out each Sunday. Don’t do them alone – discuss and pray about them with a trusted Christian friend, your spouse or your parents. Pray for healing where vices have left scars. Pray for perseverance when virtues seem impossible. Cheer one another on so that our lives grow in virtue and God’s dream, shalom, takes root right here in Etobicoke.