Dear Friends in Faith,
One of the great Christian writers of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, wrote one of the great classics of 20th Century Christian literature; a book called The Screwtape Letters.
The book is an imaginary set of letters from a Senior Demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a Junior Tempter named Wormwood. The letters are instructions on how Wormwood can achieve the damnation of the human he has been assigned to as a sort of “guardian tempter” (the opposite of a “guardian angel”.) It gives detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and of promoting sin in “the Patient”.
The book is both cleverly funny and jaw-droppingly insightful. I read it years ago, but recently was reminded of how timeless it can be. The Screwtape Letters was written in Britain in 1942. World War II Britain was deeply divided over emotionally charged political disputes. Much like in America today, people tended to choose their side, bunker down, and defend their positions at all cost.
Also, like America today, The Screwtape Letters points out that religious convictions had become justification for preconceived political stances. In one letter, Screwtape writes this to Wormwood about his “patient”:
Let him begin by treating the PATRIOTISM or the PACIFISM as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “Cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British War Effort or of Pacifism…Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man.
Our faith must stand above everything else in our lives. It is not a component of anything else. Nothing else must even stand on the same level as it. Our political ideas flow from our faith, but mature faith knows they are only our human and imperfect attempts to let “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Our faith needs to be the troublesome conscience of everything every one of us does. If any one of us has never thought of our own politics (WHATEVER THEY MAY BE) whenever we speak the words of the confession: “we have sinned against you by what we have done and what we have left undone,” then Screwtape and Wormwood have been having some success in their work with us.
“Good government” is one of the many things Luther says is covered by the prayer “Give us this day our daily bread.” And, like our bread itself, God’s gift of good government comes with our participation in producing it. They both come from God.
As Christian people, we must bring our best to our politics, and then be humble, because the Gospel will critique all politics. And, while God says that bread can sometimes contain him, government cannot.
Pr. Bob Moberg