In Letter 4 Screwtape covers the subject of prayer and instructs Wormwood how to tie his ‘patient’ up in knots. He does this by trying to get him to conjure up a spiritual mood by certain words and postures and by directing his attention towards himself rather than God. So he fails to let his prayer flow out from his ‘handing over’ and surrender to God, for God to do as he pleases.

God refers to himself as ‘I am that I am’ (literally ‘I will be who I will be’ Ex.3.14). God is beyond all boundaries of time and place, action and reward; he exists independently of our conceptions of him and therefore cannot be categorized.

In Letter 27 Screwtape wants to discourage Wormwood’s patient from praying about tangible things like the everyday needs of real people (daily bread and healing from sickness) and instead to hold the ‘pious’ view that true prayer is ‘praise and communion with God’. It is the ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ argument when he prays, thereby casting doubt in his patient’s mind as to whether petitionary prayer actually works.

There are other strategies that Screwtape employs. In Letters 5 and 6 he instructs Wormwood  to use the misery and suffering that war and pestilence bring as a tactic to undermine his patient’s faith. He does this by trapping him in the past, to focus all his energies in ruminating about the things that happened and to be choked up) about the things that might happen which he can’t control rather than trusting God.  

In Letters 8 and 9 Screwtape instructs Wormwood how to exploit troughs and ‘undulations’, periods of dryness and numbness. These are times in his patient’s life when he doesn’t feel God’s presence. These testing times of God’s hiddenness and doubt when emotions fluctuate provide opportunities for the devil’s attacks of despair, sensual temptations and addictions that weave themselves through our spirit and imprison us. Faith involves having intimate communion with God and perseverance by learning to yield control of our mind, our will and desires despite how we feel, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Screwtape wants Wormwood to exploit these low points in his patient’s life by convincing him that they will be permanent and to make him think that he is just going through a ‘religious phase’, a fad.

Screwtape confesses he doesn’t know the real cause of joy and confuses it with ‘Fun’ and ‘Jokes’ and instructs Wormwood regarding the use of ‘flippancy’ and vague feelings about shameful behaviour and unconfessed sin that have the cumulative effect of further  leading his patient away from God, his mercy and loving-kindness. The other side of this is the patient abandoning his self-will (self-forgetfulness is the sign of true humility), his deepest longings to God, his desire to please people and to fully rest and find his personality in God.

No amount of piety in the believer’s imagination will be of any use if it is kept out of the will. Wormwood has to prevent his patient from converting any new thoughts of repentance into action. This is because ‘active habits are strengthened by repetition’ (Letter 13). Again, the lesson is to watch, and to be aware of the devil’s cunning devices.

                                                                        – Nicos Kaloyirou