I meet nearly every Saturday morning with a group of guys to discuss the Bible, theology, and books. For the last year, we’ve been going through C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I owe some of what I write here to those conversations with those men.
In chapter 29 Lewis’ diabolical Screwtape is plotting with his protegé Wormwood on how best to use the war (WWII) to affectively drive the “patient” away from God (the Enemy from the demon’s perspective) and into their waiting arms. The demons are certain that cowardice is not necessarily a useful tool because if pushed too far, the man will become fully self-aware and turn in repentance to God. Of course, from the demonic perspective, if the demons can move the man from self-awareness to shame and ultimately to despair, they will have done great damage to his spiritual well-being.
It is therefore possible to lose as much as we gain by making your man a coward; he may learn too much about himself! There is, of course, always the chance, not of chloroforming the shame, but of aggravating it and producing Despair. This would be a great triumph. It would show that he had believed in, and accepted, the Enemy’s forgiveness of his other sins only because he himself did not fully feel their sinfulness–that in respect of the one vice which he really understands in its full depth of dishonor he cannot seek, nor credit, the Mercy. But I fear you have already let him get too far in the Enemy’s school, and he knows that Despair is a greater sin than any of the sins which provoke it.
There is a lot happening in this quote, but Lewis is building on the notion that cowardice is one vice that is felt and known by everyone as sinful. No one respects cowardice while everyone respects bravery. But here, Lewis focuses on Despair. Despair is that point where a person loses all hope things will ever be better, as if they are lost forever, roaming in darkness.
When we sink in to the depths of despair, we are really saying that we are too far gone for God’s grace to reach us. We are saying we believe that our sin is so great that God can not forgive us. The darkness of despair tells us a lie. It tells us that we are unforgivable. It tells us that our sin, our will, our dark hearts are stronger than that of the Father. We declare his promises are not trustworthy, and his power has limitations. Despair is a great sin because in it we declare that God is not God.
Our enemy wants us to despair. He wants us to become focused on our own sin, on our own failures, so much so that we lose sight of God’s grace and forgiveness. There is a lesson in this for us. We need to be self-aware. We have to be honest to God about our need for repentance, but God does not want us to enter a place of despair. This may come as a surprise, but it is possible to be too concerned about our sin. God wants us looking at Christ. He wants us to know that we are forgiven. He wants us to know that we are never beyond his grace. In Christ there is no condemnation, and in Christ there is hope and promise we will not always be as we are. Our enemy uses shame, and later despair, to keep us looking at ourselves which results in driving us further from God.
Do not despair. No matter how dark, all is not lost. You can not out run God’s grace. Your sin is not beyond forgiveness, and God has not given up on you. God has not forgotten you.