In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, a senior demon, writes a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, an apprentice demon, advising him in how to tempt a man, known as “the Patient.” Having failed to keep “the Patient” from the gift of salvation, Wormwood is now on a quest to steer him toward an ineffective and joyless Christianity. In an interesting passage in chapter nine, Screwtape informs Wormwood of a chief characteristic of humans that can serve as their inevitable downfall. He writes:
You are much more likely to make our man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne when he is dull and weary than by encouraging him to use it as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive. Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His [God’s] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure so that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.
Suffering is all around us, and it is a common theme in scripture. No one escapes suffering—it is part of all of our stories. It is important that we understand its place in our lives, God’s purposes for it, and how we are to face it. Normally we are ill-prepared when we face suffering and naturally ill-equipped to deal with it well. Rarely do people know how to talk about difficulty in a way that is helpful. However, God has very important things to say to us in our suffering.You may be reading this as someone who is in a particular place of suffering. Something hurts right now. Having a biblical lens through which to view your suffering story is important. I hope to help shape that lens by looking to scripture for the causes, purposes, and responses to our suffering.
Anger—everyone has struggled with it, or has experienced someone who does. Anger is prevalent in its various forms. On a continuum we can soft-sell it as frustration or watch it in the fit of rage. Our anger can make feel at once powerful, and then full of shame. Receiving another's anger can leave us feeling small, unjustly treated, and hurt or shamed. Anger has the capacity to do great damage, but also to do great good. How then should we think about it? What does the Bible say about anger? And what does my anger say about me? And what should I do about it?
The scriptures tell us that anger is anything but neutral, against much of what current thinking depicts about it. Anger, like nothing else, reveals what one truly lives for, values, and treasures. Our anger should get our attention, signaling the need for serious heart examination. Anger is a moral issue, always demonstrating adherence to God’s standards of the heart and conduct. But what else does the Bible tells us about our anger? And what does it reveal about me?
Anxiety is a complex experience. Those suffering with it will tell you it is a taste of death. Whereas fear is the sense of immediate danger (as in a burglar in the house), anxiety is more future-oriented. It is the sense of expectant loss, pain, embarrassment, or discomfort. The reality is that more people experience anxiety than perhaps any other emotion. And anxiety is felt acutely in the body, making its presence known as a racing heart, sweaty palms, and shortness of breath. It has the effect of depleting its victim of energy, mental alertness, and spiritual vitality. It is a disquieting experience that leaves its owner with dread of its continuation, leading, at times, to a sense of desperation. Why is this so? And where is help to be found?
In Luke 10:38-41, we have an account of Jesus as a guest in the home of Mary and Martha. When reading this narrative, we are all prone to see ourselves as a Mary, and others as a Martha. I hope you will read the account and have an open mind about what the Lord may want to say to you.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. We don’t know exactly what her reason was for the invitation, but from the context, it seems that Martha wanted a social experience that involved Jesus. She must have thought of Him as someone special, but we left to wonder if she did so in the right way. What was it that Martha treasured that caused her to invite Jesus into her home? Was it Jesus Himself, or Jesus plus something else? It seems that through this narrative we might learn something about ourselves. So let’s make a few observations and comments.