Encouragement From Screwtape Is it True?

Encouragement found in The Screwtape Letters

The selection for my book club in February was The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Of course I found encouragement in the book.

This book is fascinating and I have read it many times. The book is a series of letters from Screwtape, a master tempter from hell, to his apprentice nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has been assigned to a man to win him for the dark side, while the man is by his nature, destined for heaven. Screwtape is constantly giving pointers and criticisms about how Wormwood is going about his work.

“…encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence”


“He [God] hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any reason. And we should always encourage them to do so.”

Yes, he said it! Screwtape used encourage in a way that is not intrinsically good. In fact I counted at least 14 times that Screwtape is encouraging Wormwood in his influence over the man. Since my study of encouragement is still new, and somewhat based on my own experiences I had to pause when I read all the ways Wormwood was being encouraged by his uncle.

The number 1 principle in my Principles of Effective Encouragement list is that encouragement is intrinsically good. How could I be that off? What was I missing?

And then, as all book clubs are intended to do, I thought more deeply about what I was reading. As Lewis himself writes in the Preface,

“Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true…There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on Earth.”

Of course! Truth is straightforward, lies are twisted. “Man tends by nature toward the truth”.*  Since man tends toward truth, the devil has to work extra hard to twist the truth to win souls for himself. Hence, in the battle for souls for hell, the work of Wormwood and Screwtape are very necessary and very twisted.

Which brings me, to my relief, that the encouragement from Screwtape is also twisted. In the world of the devil, encouragement is twisted from “encouragement is intrinsically good”, to “encouragement is intrinsically bad”.

So, for now, my principle holds true.


*2467 Catechism of the Catholic Church



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