C.S. Lewis on Humility


I have been reading (actually listening on my commute) C.S. Lewis’ classic the Screwtape Letters. These letters are insightful and challenging looks at how to live out the Christian life.

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They are written from the perspective of how demons might seek to tempt and pull us away from our relationship with God (known as the Enemy).

In letter #14 we find the master tempter Screwtape instructing his nephew, Wormwood, on how to deal with a problem. The person (aka the patient) that has been assigned to Wormwood, whom he is responsible for tempting and discouraging, is growing in his Christian walk.

Your patient has become humble

The first line of attack that Screwtape encourages his nephew to consider is to get his patient to focus on his humility. In this way they might attempt to draw out the vice pride as the man would suddenly start to think: I am being humble.

As they continue to think about what other means of attack that are open to them, they discuss the true intent of humility from the Enemy’s (aka God) point of view.

By [Humility] our Enemy wants to turn man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors. … unless they attain this end they do us little harm; and they may even do us good if they keep the man concerned with himself …

Humility involves what we are focused on. God and the demons are each trying to get us to direct our attention in opposite ways. Since God’s purpose in humility is to get us to focus on Him and others, the demons primary goal is to work against these. As long as humility is not actually understood and carried out as God wants the demons are successful.

Screwtape urges Wormwood to hide the true intent of humility from the patient and encourage him to dwell on his own talents and character as being less than they really are. In doing so the patient will think that he is growing in humility, when in fact he is doing the opposite.

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By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves…

To combat this, we must rightly understand that humility does not mean thinking less of ourselves. For then we are really falling into the trap set for us by the demons.

God, meanwhile, wants to “get the man’s mind off the subject of his own value altogether.”

He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or a great poet and then forget about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one.

What do you think?

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