The Screwtape Letters Chapter 27: 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.

Chapter twenty-seven of 'The Screwtape Letters' focuses on methods of attacking the prayer life of the patient while preventing him from learning from history.

Wormwood Attempts a New Approach

Will Wormwood finally succeed in pulling his patient away from the Enemy?

In chapter twenty-seven of the The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Uncle Screwtape, a senior tempter in the Underworld (Hell), continues to instruct his incompetent young nephew, Wormwood, an apprentice tempter, on the art of bringing souls to Hell and away from the Enemy (God).

At this point in the story, the human, or patient, who has been assigned to Wormwood has become a Christian and become romantically involved with a Christian woman. Obviously, Wormwood has not shown much success thus far! In this letter, Screwtape hopes to instruct his nephew on how to make the distraction of the girlfriend interfere with his prayer life.

The Screwtape Letters
Book Cover

Petitionary Prayers

Wormwood's incompetent act of the week is letting his patient become aware that he is having trouble concentrating on praying because he is so preoccupied with his girlfriend. His awareness triggered him to go to the Enemy during his prayer time to ask for help.

Wormwood should have encouraged him to use will power, as using prayer ended up bringing the patient closer to the Enemy. Even though the Enemy has instructed his followers to make petitionary prayers, it will seem inappropriate on an intellectual level for a human to send God his wish list during prayer time. This is something Wormwood can use!

Denying the Effectiveness of Prayer

While the patient will probably continue to make these types of prayers, Wormwood can make him feel guilty about it. 'Now is the time for raising intellectual difficulties about prayer of that sort,' Screwtape advises. From there, other ways of over-intellectualizing his prayer life can interfere with the patient's connection to the Enemy.

'If the thing he prays for doesn't happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don't work,' Screwtape says. 'If it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and 'therefore it would have happened anyway', and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.' The patient's lack of understanding of how the spirit world perceives time and space shall add to his confusion.

The Confusion of God and Free Will

Men see the world through the perception of time as being past, present, and future. They can intellectualize based on their perception that God cannot really leave room for free will if he is all-knowing. They do not realize, Screwtape says, that 'creation in its entirety operates at every point of space and time'.

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