The Screwtape Letters

February 13, 2024


Last year, my older kids did The Screwtape Letters in their Bible study group. They used a guide that contained some good discussion questions, but did not provide much of an explanation of each letter. Each chapter had only a very short summary of what Lewis was saying. However, they found Lewis’ literary and philosophical language often confusing. In other words, the first step to really enjoying the text was simply to understand what he was saying!

To address this problem, we’ve created a more complete guide. Each lesson contains a vocabulary list, a reflection that explains the letter, and some pertinent questions. Because we’ve summarized what Screwtape is saying, the discussion questions don’t ask students to explain parts of the letter. Instead, the focus is on relating Lewis’ ideas to the Bible and to our own lives. Below is a sample lesson. To preview additional lessons, you can sign up for a trial (using the link above).

Sample Lesson: Letter 5


Rhapsody – an enthusiastic outpouring of feeling.

Chalice – cup for drinking wine.

Pacifist – someone opposed to fighting in any war.

Temporal – in relation to earthly time.

Sophistical – using a clever (but likely false) line of reasoning.

Partisans – members of an armed group, loyal fighters.

At War

Sometime between letters 4 and 5, Britain has declared war on Germany. For British people, World War II has begun. Apparently, Wormwood’s human has lost sleep worrying about what the future will bring. While a night of anguish and terror delights Wormwood, Screwtape warns him not to get too excited. Conflicts and suffering often bring out the best in people.

In James 1:2-3, we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” God uses difficult times (such as war) to refine our faith, something of which Screwtape is all to well aware. As he points out, “The Enemy’s human partisans [God’s loyal followers] have all been plainly told by Him that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption.”

Screwtape therefore warns Wormwood about some of the potential outcomes of armed conflict. All of a sudden, people can no longer lead complacent lives. They start thinking about death. They remember their Creator. They stop being so selfish and fight for a greater cause. All of this is obviously not good for the demons.

In fact, while Screwtape might find a death on the battlefield entertaining, he knows that humans often go into battle prepared. They have considered their lives, they have faced their fears, and they may well have asked God for forgiveness. By contrast, in a nursing home there are all sorts of ways to trick the patient into thinking that he is in no danger of dying yet.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the fifth letter is the reminder that even during a world war there is a bigger fight going on. Screwtape refers to God as the “Enemy,” whose “headquarters” are a well-defended base to which his “partisans” can flee. The demons cannot immediately bring sinners to hell because God has a “blockade” in place (think of a naval blockade of port cities). All the demons can do is use their own “best weapons,” namely temptations such as “contented worldliness.”

It is therefore good to remind ourselves of a Bible verse that might be considered the theme of The Screwtape Letters, Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” There is a more important war happening.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think of Lewis’ suggestion that God sometimes rewards people who have fought nobly for a bad cause: “He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground [according to the ridiculously bad logic] that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew”?

2. In the Middle Ages, writers would sometimes compose an Ars moriendi (an Art of Dying). Do you think the self-help sections of our bookstores should have more volumes like that? If you were to compose such a book, what would you be some of your advice?

3. Given that the previous letters were about prayer, what do you think might be an appropriate way to pray during times of war?

Works Cited

Citations from the Bible are from the New International Version (NIV). Quotations from Lewis are from The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast (HarperCollins, 1996).

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