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We pick up the letter with Screwtape’s instructions on how to keep his nephew’s college-aged subject away from church and perfectly wretched…

At the risk of insulting your diabolical intelligence, allow me to remind me of your course in Youth Misery. Recall the Three S's of Satan, our Sinister Snake (I know, he sometimes gets carried away with alliteration, but it does help jog the old memory). The Three S's of youth misery: Keep them separate. Keep them selfish. Keep them searching. Allow me to expound.

The First S: Keep them separate. Our Bureau of Statistics (remember there are lies, damned lies, and statistics) has documented evidence proving that the best way to keep young people from growing into devoted followers of the Enemy is to keep them far away from any of his grown-up, devoted followers. Church attendance allows for too much interaction between old and young. With this interaction come manifold dangers: modeling, mentoring, service, and hospitality.

Listen closely. Groups of students meeting together for prayer and study is, it's true, a pernicious influence, but gladly, the influence is often short-lived. Soon, your subject will graduate and he will find that the rest of the planet is not like his university. He will not be surrounded by peers all his age with his same interests. It is to our advantage that he be unable to relate to anyone above the age of 25. This not only makes for misery, but it makes church involvement, and therefore the Christian life, much less likely.

This, of course, goes hand in hand with the Second S: Keep them selfish. It's really quite simple.  All of our human subjects are selfish, but the young especially. It's hardly their fault. They have no spouse or children to think of, only themselves. They have food handed to them on plastic platters. And they live in a country that believes for some strange reason, pleasant enough to us, that history doesn't matter, that the old are useless, and that youth culture should be prized above all else. And yet, I must hasten to add, don't underestimate your subject. Human youths are capable of extraordinary acts of courage and bravery and accomplishment, as the Annals of the Enemy record. Keep your youth far away from such examples. See to it that no visions of nobility or self-sacrifice or inspiration enter his head.

Which again, if I may repeat myself, is why church must be foresworn at all costs. It is at church that he will see examples of lived-out bravery and sacrifice. And, more importantly, it is at church that he will have to face his own selfishness. He will encounter music he doesn't like and old people who do strange things and babies who smell and cry. (Incidentally, I only mention babies because your subject is male, as is mine. The female youth I am told must not, under any circumstances, be surrounded by small children, those children enticing the females to re-visit church rather than repulsing them away as with most male subjects). My point is that so long as the spiritual experiences of our youthful subjects can be catered to the whims and fancies of 18-22 year olds, the students will not likely stick with a church when they discover that churches must also deal with the whims and fancies of 8 year olds and grandmothers.

One more thing, students today love the idea of community. Do everything in your power to keep them loving the idea of community rather than loving their community. As long as they love their vision of community instead of loving the actual fleshly people around them, they will never have real community and they will stay far away from church.

The Third S, and I here I draw to a close, is to keep them searching. Use the native restlessness of this time to your advantage. Students think it is their inalienable right to be irresponsible and uncommitted. Feed this conviction. Do not, in any way, allow for your subject to consider commitment or service or what they call "accountability." If he must be interested in God, keep it peripheral. Let him come and go and flit in and out of whatever spiritual venue suits him for the day. But see to it that he makes no promises, no commitments, no investment. And in the unlikely event that you cannot prevent such blunders, make sure there is no one in his life to hold him to his promises and commitments, especially those who are older and wiser. This goal is best served by keeping our patients away from church. Remember the cross-stitch (pardon my use of the foul word "cross") above auntie's fridge: "Keep them searching for the soul; never finding and never whole."

All that's left is for me to thank you for your patience in reading what has turned out to be a rather lengthy correspondence. Please do not hear my harsh words as anything but familial concern for your welfare and the good of our Infernal Kingdom.

Would you be so kind as to write me back as soon as possible? These are weighty matters and we truly live in troubled times. Might I suggest you use the post instead of email-what with your past internet struggles and dalliance with sermonography?

Say hello to your father for me. Best wishes in your malfeasance, malevolence, and malediction.

Unscrupulously yours,

Uncle Screwtape

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17 thoughts on “A Lost Letter to Wormwood (conclusion)”

  1. Dean P says:

    Sermonography? Now that’s funny.

  2. Alex says:

    Never mind sermonography. According to an infomercial, there’s a whole science of youthology that I was previously unaware of.

  3. Bill Haynes says:

    Good job . . . very Lewis-ish!!

  4. Barb Rice says:

    Loved this. I’m going to send it to several college students I know!

  5. LEW says:

    This is good and helpful, but may I humbly suggest that it doesn’t adequately address the chief reason why the devil wishes to keep people away from the church, even weak and warped churches? That is, because that’s where the means of grace — especially Word and sacraments — are. He wants to keep them away from the means of grace because he wants to keep them away from the God who can strike straight blows with crooked sticks, who can convey heavenly treasures via weak and foolish jars of clay. Praise God that he can do end runs around the means of his appointment, but take heed because we cannot. Satan and his minions know that.

  6. Lane Keister says:

    Brilliant, Kevin. I’m linking to it.

  7. Cory Griess says:

    Absolutely fabulous. Well-done sir

  8. Charles says:

    Kevin, thank you for posting this.
    You might have just changed my life significantly.
    I’m a grad student living nearly a thousand miles from home and have had almost no interaction with mature believers since I moved here and joined my current church (with its enormous college group) a year ago. I’ve been asked to teach third graders, and I was about to say no tomorrow for fear of being committed to anything.
    This post suddenly made me realize that what I’ve been missing and what I really need.

  9. Owen says:

    This rocks, particularly when it digs into easy lies that young people believe about church. The point about how harmful it is for young people to be separated from mature believers hits very, very hard.

  10. Arlene says:

    You are an incredible writer. It felt like I was really reading Lewis! :)

  11. Richard Chelvan says:

    “All that’s left is for me to thank you for your patience in reading what has turned out to be a rather lengthy correspondence. Please do not hear my harsh words as anything but familial concern for your welfare and the good of our Infernal Kingdom.”

    I really enjoyed the “letter.” It was a very fine addition to what I consider my favorite Lewis book.

    However, it does not end the way Lewis would have done it. Screwtape’s tone is too nice. He would have said the following instead:

    All that’s left is for me to excoriate you for your rather banal attempts at currying favor by pretending to be patient with my latest missives. I require more obsequiousness and acknowledgment of my rank – I may be ancient but I am still capable of making your miserable existence a living Hell. Please do not mistake my harsh words as familial concern for your welfare, rather it is to the good of our Infernal Kingdom and our Infernal Majesty.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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