My last college class before turning to teaching high school is Fantasy Literature. We are reading a short variety of fantasy books as we discuss what elements make fantasy different than other types of fiction. One of the books we are reading, a personal favorite of mine, is C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
If you are not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, the epistolary novel gives the perspective of demons as they tempt mankind. The narrator is a demon named Screwtape, and the novel is his instructional letters to his nephew, a demon named Wormwood. Wormwood’s task is to keep his assigned “patient” (or human) from being an effective servant of God. The letters outline the demons’ strategies to tempt us away from God’s best for our lives. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it, because Lewis shows so much insight into the way humans think and deal with things. He creatively illustrates ways that we are drawn away from God without even always realizing it.
In Letter 8, Screwtape addresses a response from Wormwood about his human’s progress in abandoning his newfound Christian beliefs. The man is losing some of his initial fervor, falling into a rut. Rather than seeing the change as a victory, Screwtape teaches Wormwood about the law of undulations. Through his main character, Lewis states that the very nature of humanity is to cycle through ups and downs, fluctuating in our affections, our preferences, and our desires.
“As spirits they [humans] belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.”C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 8
For the demons to do the most damage during the dry and dull periods, Screwtape says to keep the man focused on his emotions. More specifically, focus on how his emotions have changed. How he just doesn’t feel as committed to God. How he feels disinterested and unsatisfied. And that this must mean that Christianity isn’t really working for him.
Doesn’t this sound just like us? I know it sounds like me. I start something new with great excitement, passion, commitment… and then I fizzle. I’ll start a new Bible study and diligently study every day, but before long my daily routine feels mundane and stale. This even happens in our closest relationships. Every marriage book I have read talks to some degree about how the “in love” feeling will fade, the “honeymoon phase” will end, and what’s left is choice. Choosing to stay committed, choosing to love.
Our first response to feeling less engaged with Christ should be self-evaluation. Is there sin in my life that is hindering my relationship with Christ? If so, I need to confess and repent. Once we have dealt with sin in our lives, we can identify the situation for what it is – an undulation. Knowing that undulations are inevitable, we must properly anchor ourselves to keep from being carried away by our emotions. If I anchor myself to another person – Jon, my family, my friends – I can still very easily drift off course. Because they are all experiencing undulations as well. We will just drift away together. God is the only constant, unaffected by undulations. He is always the same. He is always present.
I’m thankful that my emotions don’t have to run the show. And that I can choose what I am anchored to, regardless of how I feel.
When we choose to anchor ourselves to God, He steadies us and draws us closer to Himself, regardless of our circumstances or feelings.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:1-2
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6