The Gentle Slope, Soft Underfoot, Without Sudden Turnings, Without Milestones, Without Signposts (May 2007)

It’s always a shock to me when I realize the depth of the deception that I have become entrenched in. I allow myself to believe the lies that Satan tempts me with and turn, ever so gradually, away from the One True God. Satan inevitably takes it one step too far, though, and I am made aware of my situation. When that happens, I have only to repent and am back on the path of righteousness. Allow me to explain.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (a wonderfully written and thoroughly enlightening read), there are essentially three characters. One is a man, newly a Christian, who is being tempted by the second, Wormwood. Wormwood’s uncle, Screwtape, is the third character. It is Wormwood’s job to tempt the man so that he eventually ends up in Hell. Screwtape offers advice to Wormwood on how to do it. The whole book is written as only Screwtape’s side of the pair’s correspondence. I have to say, it is brilliant. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants some insight into how they can avoid Satan’s trap.

Moving on, Wormwood has managed to get the man involved with a group of friends who are “worldly,” that is, they drink too much, they are materialists, they are vain, they are flippant, etc. However, at the same time, the man is still going to church and still fancies himself a Christian. He is gently sliding away from God, due to his discomfort with the two parallel lives he is living, though he does not realize it because he is not aware of his indiscretions. He thinks his choices are minor and excusable, but they are leading down the gentle path toward Hell. The man, unconsciously, wants Wormwood to tempt him away from real contact with God, because he feels the discomfort caused by his dual-lives, but does not want to deal with it. Therefore he looks for any excuse to avoid praying or spending time in the Word or being with real Christians. This is what Screwtape says about that:

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forego (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I like.’ . . . You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the onlly thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick (Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 2001, HarperCollins: San Francisco, pp. 59-61).

You see, Satan has led me on a path away from God, but with only small sins, so that I did not notice. I looked for any excuse not to spend time with my God, and at first was only tempted by things I enjoyed; but eventually I was given nothing in place of my God, and that was enough. I long to be the person that God wants me to be, and now I realize how far I have strayed. I know, though, that I am forgiven already, before I even wrote any of this, because of Christ’s death on the cross and God’s complete and abundant grace. The path to Hell is an easy one, a gentle slope . . . I’m sharing this so that hopefully others will come to see that they are on that gentle slope, and will turn and be healed.

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