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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Week 5: The Screwtape Letters - Controlling Appetites

The next group of letters focus upon the danger of allowing our senses to rule us.  In Letter 17, Lewis expands the common understanding of "gluttony" to include the "gluttony of Delicacy," exemplified by the attitude of the patient's mother, whose over attention to the precise satisfaction of her food preferences leads her into "querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern."  21st Century America has turned this sin into a marketing tool!  Do any of you remember when coffee was ordered one of two ways: either "black" or "regular"?  I marvel at times listening to people give their coffee orders!  There's nothing inherently wrong with having food preferences, of course, but problems do arise when the satisfaction of personal preferences begin to rule us, leaving us dissatisfied with anything less than our exact personal specifications.  We have become a nation of complainers.  We've come to expect everything and everyone should meet our personal requirements ... our coffee, our food, our spouse, our job, our church.  We have each become gods of our own little world, demanding that our personal preferences become the standard for all, without thinking through how impossible that would be to attain!  Our "belly" comes to dominate our life.  Screwtape calls it "the 'All-I-want' state of mind."

Letter 18 addresses sexual appetites.  Screwtape gives a nod to the success poets and novelists have achieved in redefining "love" and thereby eroding the sanctity of marriage "by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call 'being in love' is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding."  [Remember this was written in the early 1940's!]  He also comments how the label "love" tends to be applied to any infatuation and used "to excuse a man from all the guilt, and to protect him from all the consequences, of marrying a heathen, a fool, or a wanton."  People are easily swayed by emotion, sometimes to their own detriment.  In counseling sessions I've often heard sin justified by emotion, as if we had no control over our emotions and expected to be ruled by them, rather than by God's revelation.

Letter 19 continues the theme of love.  The love of God is explored, and misunderstood, by Screwtape and the demons.  Satan's pride and lack of love has blinded him to having a correct understanding of God, who IS love, personifies love, as Scripture tells us.  I've been thinking about how we tend to desire, even demand, that kind of love from others, yet seldom demonstrate that level of love ourselves.  What a dangerous characteristic of the sin nature!  Maybe it's just me, but I find this is something I constantly need to be alert to.  God wants us to be focused on loving, not on "being loved."  Too often we look at verses commanding US to love and twist it around in our minds to demand love from others.  It's a good biblical practice to read those commands and focus on our own walk before God.... Am I being loving?  Is that a loving thing for me to say?  Is that a loving thing for me to do?  Am I exhibiting a loving attitude?  Am I building up or tearing down?  Am I serving others or myself?

There's a commercial on TV that reminds me of the issue of "the ideal woman" raised in Letter 20.  At the beginning you see a woman dressed in clothing from the early 20th Century.  As she walks through the house, she pulls her dress off over her head to reveal the next stage of what was considered stylish dress.  I don't remember what is being sold, but the ads make me realize what a silly thing "fashion" is and how people's idea of beauty changes so frequently over the years.  When I was a child, Marilyn Monroe's voluptuousness was the fashion.  When I became a teenager, Twiggy's boyish, anorexic image became the fashion.  Screwtape writes, "As a result we are more and more directing the disires of men to something which does not exist - making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible."  If that was true in the early 1940's, how much more unattainable is the "ideal" in the age of the air brush and Photoshop?  Personally, I love candid shots of celebrities ... in their "natural" state most look just like the average person on the street, just skinnier.  I remind myself that it's all smoke and mirrors, that outer beauty fades, but inner beauty grows as you walk obediently with the Lord.  This is certainly an area that needs to be addressed in parenting.  Helping your child develop a godly attitude and focus in life should be a parent's primary goal.  The question that always helps me to get my thoughts back in the right place is, "What matters the most for eternity?"  Those things need to be my priority.

[Week #1; Week #6]

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm......I think that tendency is absolutely inescapable....as in the one to demand love/behavior from others that we don't expect ourselves to give. Or, in my own case, to do things for the express purpose of duty, and ending up being a "resounding gong," without love, and ultimately only fulfilling my own desire to perform in the eyes of men, and not love my Lord, and my neighbor, in my actions. I also realize now how many times I use benign words to distance myself from things, such as laziness, or lowness, and actually in my haughty words and attitudes end up distancing myself from people God wants me to be alonside, and influence. And ultimately, the day after I put myself up on a pedestal, the next day He humbles me! God is good! I am not...... but......God is good!
Joselyn

Anonymous said...

Joselyn, I really resonated with your comment that "God is good! I am not...but... God is good!" I had that same "revelation" one day when I snapped and fumed at a librarian who politely told me that I would have to bring my library card the next time I came in to the library. I fumed and fretted through the next two hours of running errands, muttering to myself "how dare she" until God broke through my stubborn selfish heart through one of the hymns I was listening to. And I was overwhelmed with the fact that God is Holy, and I am most certainly, definitively, and decisively NOT.

I think God's words "I desire and not sacrifice" are so chock full of meaning. God cares what we ARE in our hearts more than what our external actions might be. It's not the actions themselves that are important, it's the heart attitude that God treasures.
-SPB

Beth'sMomToo said...

...and outer actions are just an outworking of heart issues. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders." (Jesus in Mt.15:19) Too often we give all our attention to the action, instead of the root of that action. It's impossible for me to "put off" any outward behavior without dealing with the root issue in my heart. How often we hear believers say they repeatedly "tried" to put off a particular sinful action and repeatedly "failed". They didn't go deeply enough... to the source... what is the expectation of your heart? When the "heart/mind" lines up with biblical truth, it works itself out, demonstrates itself in changed behavior.