Conflict between good and evil is a basic dilemma. Most of us would say we’d go with the good. But evil can look so good and easy. I’ve always thought that the easy is what makes it bad, that we must struggle for the real good. In most conflicts, and in most books, it always seems that good and evil are equal. That there is a possibility that evil could win.
This week’s gospel, The Temptation of Jesus, was all about that basic dilemma, between God and the devil. And the devil treats God as an equal. But God is not fooled. For me, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, come to mind. I read C.S. Lewis on a regular basis, not every Lent but many of them, since I was in high school. It is a very short read, can be disconcerting and challenging and should be better known. The letters are about the faith side of evil. Written during what Lewis calls The Second German War, the book was published in installments in The Guardian and received a ‘like it’ or hate it’ sort of reception. Through the letters, the book takes on the idea that good and evil are equal. In a forward to the paperback edition, written by Lewis, he said the most common question is “Do you believe in the Devil?” And he answers, ‘Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No.” He says he believes in devils, like he believes in angels. These are angels who have become depraved, enemies of God, fallen angels.
In the letters, Screwtape is a supervising demon counseling his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter, who is on Earth. He asks, in his first letter, “But are you not being a trifle naïf?” Screwtape is anything but and, throughout the book, his letters deal with helping Wormwood tempt his patient toward Our Father Below. For Screwtape, the Enemy is God, and definitely much less a supreme being. But for us, reading the book, we know that these devils, definitely with a small ‘d’, have chosen to follow one who is not the opposite of God, but one created by God, who is less than God.