angels&demons, Theology

Screwtape’s Law of Undulation


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Screwtape is a senior demon and his nephew, Wormwood, is a junior tempter. The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis is an apologetic work that seeks to mock the devil by satirising his methods in tempting and limiting Christians in their relationship with God. It’s a series of letters between the two demons.

It’s an ingenious work from Lewis (1942) and, while I wouldn’t agree with his soteriology, (or at least some of that which is implied through Screwtape’s council to Wormwood about his ‘patient’), it is an amazingly insightful work, bristling with the electric juxtapositioning of the most laughable and the very darkest elements of human life, communicating to the reader the, perhaps, incognito principles of the spiritual battle we’re all in. I’ll mention just one…

In Screwtape’s 8th letter to Wormwood, he refers to the human ‘law of undulation’. This is what he says:-

“Humans are amphibians-half spirit and half animal (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.)…This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation-the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.” Letter 8


You might not like Screwtape’s summary of you as an amphibian, but it’s quite helpful if you think about it more. We are all constantly fighting for progress in life. Progress in finance, relationships, our health…whatever sphere it may be, we want to go forward. But as much as we want progress we are met with discouragement as we ebb and flow in vitality of faith and experiential victory over satan. Paul summed up the law of undulation in Romans 7 by not being able to follow through and do that which, in his inner-man, he most wanted to do. The war is between the flesh and the Spirit.

I was encouraged by a thought from John 1 this week. Towards the back end of the chapter Jesus describes Nathanael as a ‘true Israeite in whom there is nothing false’ (John 1:47). This commendation is despite Nathanael’s scepticism about ‘anything good coming out of Nazareth’. Jesus called this guy the real deal despite his undulating faith which one minute slated any thought of Jesus being the Christ and, the next, was bowing the knee in His presence. He ebbed and flowed big time (just like the Apostle Peter and you and I) and yet was announced as being true and without duplicity.

Proverbs 20 says: “The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being” and David’s prayer in Psalm 139 was “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting”.

Despite Screwtape’s correct diagnosis of us being up and down, hot and cold, in and out, the main point is that he couldn’t possibly ever see your inmost being as God does. He sees you from completion, from eternity, and so doesn’t judge you based on your tendency, like mine, to undulate – to ebb and to flow. Nathanael was ebbing and Jesus was commending. I think that’s the point of the law of undualtion that Screwtape couldn’t see.

2 Comments

  • This is brilliant mate. So helpful. I’m constantly undulating. What a beautiful thought that God justified the ungodly, Jesus commends the undulating, that the Father sees me perfect and dances and sings over me. Thanks mate.

  • Bro, it’s a pleasure….it’s been a while. Praying for you – often think of you all. He is the dancing Father 🙂 Nick

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