Thursday, November 21, 2013

God's Work in the Troughs {C.S. Lewis Week}

Though he slay me, I will hope in him.
Job 13:15a, ESV

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis presents the fictional correspondence from a senior demon (Screwtape) to his nephew and junior demon Wormwood. This premise requires some mental acrobatics on the part of the reader: "the Enemy" here is God, and "Our Father Below" is Satan. Capitalized pronouns refer to the true God. This book is by turns funny, convicting, and encouraging, but always insightful. My favorite passage (below) describes how God works in the "troughs," or we might say "valleys" or "pits," of the Christian's life. While I would beg to differ with Screwtape's perspective on the relationship between God's sovereignty and human will as hinted at here, I nevertheless share this passage because it has reminded me many times to stay the course of praise and obedience in the trials of life.


"Now it may surprise you to learn that in His [God's] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself--creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. . . .  Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [Satan] has drawn all other beings into Himself: the Enemy [God] wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
"And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. 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 prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
~C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 38-40 [Amazon affiliate link]
An audio version of the book, read by John Cleese, can be found on YouTube.


In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis this Friday, November 22, I aim to share one of my favorite quotes of his daily this week. Feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments.

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