The Screwtape Letters Chapter 15: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In chapter fifteen of 'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis, Uncle Screwtape teaches his nephew, Wormwood, about time and its effects on the human soul.

Time and Eternity

During a break in the war, Wormwood faces the dilemma of the best way to use this time against his patient. 'Tortured fear and stupid confidence are both desirable states of mind,' writes Screwtape. In chapter fifteen of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Wormwood learns about using past, present, future, and eternal experiences to coax his patient in the right direction. Eternity is time without beginning or end.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Book Cover


What the Enemy (God) wants is for humans to live in eternity where they are primarily occupied with thoughts about Him or in the present where they are concerned about their current relationship with Him. When the patient is rooted in the present, he is meditating, obeying, or showing gratitude for the present happiness.

While one of the responsibilities of the present might be to plan for tomorrow's service, the responsibility itself is in the present. Screwtape writes that the Enemy's ideal 'is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.'


Sometimes a tempter will encourage a patient to live in the past, but this tactic has its limits. Gratitude sometimes crops up when looking at the past. While preferable to living in the present, the finite nature of the past combined with the honesty of having actual knowledge of the events of the past prevent it from being as useful as having a patient live in the future. As Screwtape says, 'Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.'


As people are already oriented to look towards the future to sustain life, keeping them in this place is the most effective tool for a tempter. The future brings anticipation and anxiety. The aspect of the unknown creates worry about imagined concerns. 'We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.'

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