It begins by exploring the theme of undulation in humans' lives. In everything we do, we have times of peaks and times of troughs, in "interest in his work, affection for his friends, his physical appetites" (pp. 37-38). Then, Screwtape talks about the differences in the way that God uses the trough periods in our lives and the way that devils use them. The following section contrasts God and the devil's driving motivations as they look at humans.
[He wants to fill the universe with] creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct. p. 39
Wow! Isn't this sweet?! That's the beauty of God, and for someone who's supposed to sound like a demon, he sure is good at proclaiming truth about God and praising him for who he is. I love these images of God because they are so freeing. They show a God who is full and flowing over-- a God of abundance who doesn't need us but wants us. The structure of the paragraph with the barrage of paired statements really makes it effective from a literary standpoint, too.
We can use this list as a measuring rod for ourselves in our relationships with people. Are we acting out the first part of the paired statements or the second part? Are we full and flowing over in our relationships or empty and trying to be filled? We can act out either of these roles, the dark role or the light role, in our relationships, and I think whichever one we act out reveals something about the state of our heart and whether or not we are living for God that day or if we are living for ourselves. It can be easy to try to suck in or control or manipulate or seek affirmation from friends, but isn't it better to already find ourselves full so that we can love them? Living a "full and flowing over" life shows evidence of the Holy Spirit in us.
I love the last phrase "united to Him but still distinct" from p. 39. We are united to him through Jesus and we have peace with God, but we are distinct because we retain our selfhood and our human will. Looking back to creation, we are united to God in another way-- we are made in his image. We are like him in whatever way "his image" refers to. From creation, we also learn that God loves to celebrate. We see a bunch of diversity in creation-- really weird animals, think about it. Creatures who are not only functional, but beautiful, and superfluously beautiful, colorful, patterned, tall, small, almost invisible. Planets, galaxies, things that humans will never see but God still made them because he wanted to. And then, think about the passages that describe the body of believers-- one body, many parts. Think about all of your friends who can do very different amazing things-- artistic abilities, musical abilities, incredible brains, incredible athleticism, people who build things and know intuitively how parts fit together. People who can see beauty, people who get math, people who are inexhaustibly kind to others. When God made humans, he didn't make them boring. His plan was never "to cancel or assimilate" (p. 39) but to celebrate. His character of freely "giving out" and blessing shines in his creative design of humans and his lavishing of gifts, abilities, and uniqueness on us.
Where does the human will come into all this? It seems to be the focus of Lewis' attention in much of this chapter-- the devil wants to take more and more ground in humans to control them, but God wants humans to freely conform their wills to his. "Merely to override a human will... would be for Him useless... His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve" (p. 39). The two ideas-- the trough period from the beginning of the chapter, and the human will-- are connected through God's felt absence. Read the fascinating and powerful passage below:
He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs-- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual temptation, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. pp. 39- 40
What a faith! These ideas go back to one of the first chapters when Screwtape says something along the lines of "He leaves them to do it on their own" and this leads to less reliance on emotions. These trough times can be agonizing though. We just want to get out. We feel like we're in the dark and we don't know what, if anything, is happening to us in terms of "growth." And we don't really care about growth even if it is happening. Everyone has these periods of feeling forsaken by God. I love one of the lines from earlier in this chapter, "some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else" (p.38). The troughs offer us the opportunity to cultivate obedience, even though it hurts. But God doesn't demand that we execute the task perfectly. "If only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles."