The Book I Keep Rereading—Even though It Gets Less Funny Each Time

The Book I Keep Rereading—Even though It Gets Less Funny Each Time by Randy Newman  for The Gospel Coalition

C. S. Lewis would be disturbed to see The Screwtape Letters in a series about the benefits of reading old books. He’d say his book isn’t old enough. When he spoke of old books, he meant old books—works by Plato, Athanasius, or Aquinas. But I find that the gap between his 1940s writing and my rereading today is long enough to qualify it as “tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages” (God in the Dock).

When I first picked up The Screwtape Letters, I thought it would be funny. How could a fictional series of letters from a senior demon to a young trainee not be hilarious? (If you ever want to feel the full force of its humor, track down the audio version read by John Cleese.)

For example, who could resist laughing out loud when encountering this insight about pride:

Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.

Or when explaining that thinking about repentance is fine, as long as the Christian doesn’t actually do it. As Screwtape counsels,

Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul.

Repentance

But I soon found the book far more probing than entertaining. Lewis shines the light of Christian reflection on sin and temptation in revealing and disturbing ways. He does cause me to chuckle—but that only makes me drop my guard long enough to feel conviction and repent. I view myself more honestly and turn from sin more decisively after eavesdropping on this diabolical dialogue.

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