In 1942, C.S. Lewis published a Christian “novel,” made up of 31 letters written by a mentoring uncle to his nephew, which became a classic. Many view “The Screwtape Letters” as religious satire, and indeed it does fit into that genre, but there is much ever-timely truth woven within those fictitious epistles.
In case you didn’t know, Screwtape was actually a demon, one of Satan’s “senior tempters” in fact, and he was writing to his apprentice tempter Wormwood. The letters offer meticulous strategy and scheming to make sure their subject, “the Patient,” never fully develops as a Christian. And though those letters are not real, they are instructive to how easily we get sidetracked and neutralized in our walk with Christ.
What is the demon’s suggestion for the most effective temptation to undermine the Christian and paralyze us spiritually? Is it blatant immorality? Dangling forbidden fruit of fleshly lusts before our eyes? Appealing to our pride? No, it is much more subtle and sly.
The strategy, in a word: distraction. “You will find that anything, or nothing, is sufficient to attract his wandering attention,” he writes.
Seventy-seven years after Lewis gave us the “fictional” account of Screwtape and Wormwood and the Patient, we see the real life enemy busier than ever, distracting us, overloading us, and hurrying us in so many directions that the first thing we seem to neglect is our spiritual lives. Just as he planned.
And I believe that there is no more dangerous arena for that demonic distraction and temptation than the internet in general, and social media in particular. I called social media a “cesspool” in my message on Sunday and mentioned that I am intentionally taking steps to pull myself away from it. And the reason is, very simply, that I have allowed it to become a daily distraction from my spiritual focus on God. And that has to change.
The average American these days spends eleven hours a day looking at a screen of some kind. Those of us with smart phones–which is the vast majority–check those phones on average 150 plus times a day. If you’ve sat at a restaurant or even a family gathering and looked around at everyone staring down at their phones, you are not surprised by that. When you add up all the time people spend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest each day, it is no wonder that we have so little time left for such things as family, community, reading, meditating on Scripture and praying–or even sleep.
And it’s not just the time wasted. It’s the physiological and psychological effects of being absorbed in an unreality for so much of our lives. Studies continue to show how the internet destroys our ability to concentrate and shrinks our attention spans. And social media in particular feeds our base desires for approval and attention, and somehow fuels our pride and insecurities at the same time. Not to mention the environment it creates where we are dragged into “foolish and stupid arguments” that Scripture tells us to have nothing to do with (2 Tim. 2:23).
Several generations ago, Lewis wrote the following words to describe hell, but as author Drew Dyck suggests, it is certainly not hard to see that it could also be applied to describe social media in our world today:
“We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
Sounds like Facebook or Twitter to me. And all the while, it distracts our focus from the Lord, just as the demon Screwtape instructed.
Ironically, I am writing this and you are most likely reading it on an internet platform. It is disseminated by email, on a website, and on our church social media accounts. That just goes to show that the internet can be used for good, as it provides opportunities for us to communicate better, share life together and make the planet a little smaller as we seek to reach our world for Christ. Not to mention it comes in handy for showing off photos of our kids and grandkids.
But we must also recognize the danger of getting trapped in the “world wide web” of distraction, and take whatever steps necessary to protect our time and keep our focus on the things that really matter, most importantly our relationship with Christ. May the Lord lead us to be wise, and intentional, as we seek to “go deeper” with Him in 2019.
I am praying for you, as I hope you will for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.