I read someplace that upon completing the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said that writing it had been the worst struggle of his career. There are statements like that which one blithely reads, makes casual not of, and promptly ignores, only to realize later that they were pregnant with caution.
Writing this book has been a terrifying experience. In order to catch a bear, hunters say one must think like a bear. I grossly underestimated how wrenching it is to intentionally think like hell. That is not to say that my mind is unaccustomed to hellish thoughts. Quite the contrary. But I am now convinced that even the most devilish thoughts can parade through our minds quite without analysis. That is to say, we may think them but refuse to look at them for what they are, refuse to recognize the clear stamp of Satan upon them. To deliberately descend into the abyss is quite another thing altogether.
I want to teach on sin by “turning the world top-side down,” as it were. I reasoned that by letting Lucifer talk, he would talk himself into the grave. To stretch the metaphor, I wanted the devil to take enough rope to hang himself.
The dual shock to my own system was what I underestimated. The first and perhaps more predictable blow was the vicious counterattack from the enemy.
Now, please understand. I have never been overly enthusiastic about the understanding of spiritual warfare that is emphasized in some circles. It seems to me that some who actively engage in this time of warfare do so to excess. However, over the course of the year which it took me to write this book, every doorknob seemed intent upon breaking off in my hand. Spiritual struggles, deep personal disappointments, and stunning disillusionment dogged my steps. And the effort to actually turn the notes and research into prose became a fierce internal struggle. No other book I have ever attempted fought me like this one did.
I knew, of course, that the face behind the glittering mask of satanic deception would be hideous. I wanted a book that exposes sin for what it really is. The media, our culture, and our nature want to believe the deception. We love the mask. We do not want it snatched off any more than Lucifer does. The beautiful camouflage comforts us that, after all, our lust and greed and wrath are not really all that bad.
Lucifer alone was too horrible, too perverted to bear. Hence, the “response of heaven” in Michael's voice. But Heaven will not compete with deception. God lets the lie wear all the glitter. The exotic lacquers on Lucifer’s mask are designed to make the “unvarnished truth” seem dull and mundane.
God’s truth, unvarnished as it is, is Heaven’s only answer.
One older and wiser than I warned me that Lucifer will not lightly suffer his mask to be ripped away. Evil plans to drape itself in respectability. Indeed, Satan loves to claim to moral superiority. To jerk away the drape and expose the bare bones of sin is an attack on hell. And hell fights back.
The second shock of writing this book, however, was not one which I could have predicted. The descent down the slippery staircase of madness is a harrowing experience. The labyrinthian maze of the twisted spirit, that calls evil righteous and God a tyrant is a darksome nightmare of the soul been for the tourist.
I found it more agonizing that I imagined to think the Mad Hatter’s thoughts. The self-justifying insanity of dogmatized sin seemed more evil to me, as I attempted to “let it speak its mind.”
Then it dawned on me. That is the way it is. Hatred, wrath, and racism hide behind tradition, culture, and social mores. They do not seem terribly real in the faces we see at the local garden club. But after a few pages of Mein Kampf, our stomachs are churning. It is the stark expression of sin as righteousness and righteousness as sin that grabs us by the shoulders and brutally shakes us out of the afternoon nap of denial and self-defense.
The worst part of all was the horrifying realization that an utterly warped staining spirit can indwell a life so average as to even be banal. The shuddering, spine-tingling nightmare of the concentration camps was not that the guards observed and participated in these atrocities.The truly grisly thought is that those men went home and kissed their wives and tossed their children in the air and bought birthday presents for their mothers. The most gruesome reality in the universe is sin. Not only is it an offense to heaven, and a monstrosity that makes men into moral aberrants, but that it does so like a silent, deadly virus that disguises itself as normal life.
I had always thought of the Seven Deadly Sins as antiquities of our theological past. I considered the list itself some useless medieval effort at categorizing the trivial sins of that more innocent era. Yet, after a year of reading, studying, and writing, I am convinced that gluttony, for example, is not some irrelevant theological relic. It is near the very heart of a great deal that is badly wrong in modern society.
Sloth, greed (avarice), lust and all the rest are general areas of sin, the comprehension of which is important. Only by identifying and boldly labeling our sins as exactly what they are will we be convicted, feel remorse, and repent. If I “have a bit of a temper,” I do not see that as anything but the occasional unpropitious manifestation of macho image or female petulance. But if I face square on that I am guilty of the deadly sin of wrath, I must repent. I must! My shock and disgust at seeing lucifer’s fires in my own eyes will drive my into the arms of God only if I am properly horrified.
The universality of sin easies my conscience not at all. Indeed, the Bible points it out. “All have sinned…” (Rom 3:23). That in now way excuses me. It only means that I am an active and personally responsible participant in a cosmic rebellion that stretches behind the veil of space and time into the nether regions of heaven.
Jesus looked into the faces of the hateful Pharisees and told them, “Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (JN 8:44)
It is sin, deadly in all its forms, that is the curse of death. Lucifer is the father of sin, and in the end they will share his death. The gospel is a merciless mirror held firmly before us in which we may behold our lineage etched in our faces.
“We have sinned” is not the dehumanized and humiliated cry of a despairing race beaten beyond hope by pre-Renaissance legalists. “We have sinned” is the key to open heaven’s heart for an outpouring of Calvary Love. It is the doorway to revival. It is the path of personal renewal and societal restoration.
Robert Burns said, “Wouldn’t some pow-r the giftie give us to see ourselves as ithers see us.”
Nay! We must care not at all how other see us. But the gift of ruthless grace is to see my sin as He does. Only in the agony of that bitter revelation will I repent as He longs for me to do.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
BEHIND THE GLITTERING MASK
by Dr. Mark Rutland