Discipline · Ministry · Scripture · Theology

Screwtape and Spirituality

Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy. Its chief use is as a kind of artillery preparation for attacks on chastity. On that, as on every other subject, keep your man in a condition of false spirituality. Never let him notice the medical aspect. Keep him wondering what pride or lack of faith has delivered him into your hands when a simple inquiry into what he has been eating or drinking for the last twenty-four hours would show him whence your ammunition comes and thus enable him by a very little abstinence to imperil your lines of communication.

If he must think of the medical side of chastity, feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favorable to this virtue. How they can believe this, in face of the notorious lustfulness of sailors and soldiers, may well be asked. But we used the schoolmasters to put the story about—men who were really interested in chastity as an excuse for games and therefore recommended games as an aid to chastity. But this whole business is too large to deal with at the tail-end of a letter,

Your affectionate uncle


These are the words of C. S. Lewis in his famous book The Screwtape Letters. For those of you that don’t know, this book is a collection of fictional workplace letters between Screwtape and Wormwood, two demons doing their best to destroy their “patient”, a human become Christian.

I’m writing on this today because I feel what Lewis is getting at here is still neglected by the Church at large (including me), which is how our diet impacts our spirituality.

What Pride or Lack of Faith

Keep him wondering what pride or lack of faith has delivered him into your hands when a simple inquiry into what he has been eating or drinking for the last twenty-four hours would show him whence your ammunition comes…”

Even mature Christians are guilty of committing the error of looking within and solely critiquing their spiritual maturity when things seem off. Unable to focus in prayer more than a moment or two? Unable to stay awake while reading the bible? Unable to stay awake in church even?! “How wretched I must be!” one might think. But Screwtape here is saying that is a false spirituality. Neglecting the impact of what we put into our body in the form of food and drink and then counting its effects on our spiritual life as spiritual deficiencies is a dastardly deed of devils. Don’t do it!

Consider Jonathan Edwards, who took the implications of diet on his spiritual life very seriously. In his famous 70 Resolutions he writes,

“40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.” Jan. 7, 1723.

It’s clear from reading more of Edwards that he had in mind how food affected his study, his mind, and ultimately his faith. We still read Edwards for a reason.

Has Delivered Him into Your Hands

There’s a popular acronym, H.A.L.T. in the counseling world that stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. When one is suffering from any one of these four conditions, the chances of making a poor decision (such as relapsing, giving into temptation, etc) are exponentially higher.

Notice anything about those four states? Do you think they are especially spiritual, or rather are they physical? Hunger in my case can lead to anger (HANGRY!). Hunger can also cause me to be quite tired. Being tired often causes me to feel lonely. Feeling lonely usually causes me to feel depressed, in which state I am much more easily made angry. And obviously how difficult are any of the spiritual disciplines if I am dealing with any of these four states.

At any given time while dealing with H.A.L.T. I am much more likely to sin. I have the record to prove it. Trust me. For me it’s usually tired that gets me. But do consider how what Screwtape is saying impacts these four conditions and consider yourself.

He goes beyond diet and metabolism to talk about physical exercise, and how we mislead ourselves into thinking being ultra fit is a spiritual accomplishment that will enhance chastity. As Screwtape brilliantly points out, that isn’t working so well for soldiers and sailors so perhaps we ought to not fall into that thinking.

Does God approve of a physically fit body? Yes. Does god approve of a dad-bod? Yes. Can you become closer/further from God by moving from one type of body to the other? Yes. So then what? Understand that our body is not a tool to measure our good-standing before God, but rather it is a tool to help us enjoy our standing before a good God. 

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 

1 Corinthians 10:31


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