Post-Absolution Temptations

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In this piece Bob Hiller follows C.S. Lewis’ lead from Screwtape Letters and offers a sequel of his own.

I was recently invited to give a devotion for the 2024 Here We Still Stand conference in San Diego, CA. It was an enormous honor to be asked to do this. Unfortunately, as I was preparing my devotion, I came across the following demonic correspondence. To be honest, I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to you fell into my hands [1]. It caused me great concern and so I decided it best to abandon my devotion and read this letter instead. I offer it to you for your consideration:


Memo from the Office of Defense Logistics and Tactics

Re: On the Immediate Temptation towards the Recently Absolved: Conference Edition

From: Lt. Gen. Toadpipe, 

Former Apprentice to the Despicable and Delectable Screwtape

To: The devils assigned to those putrid wretches called “saints” on the occasion of leaving a time of Gospel preaching


My Dear Devils,

You have been assigned to the task of undermining all the work accomplished by our Enemy at a conference that seeks to undo the wonderful burdens, doubts, and guilt that is both our serious business and great revelry. We have no doubt that our office could manage things well on our own, but our father below has assigned us with overseeing you in this task. 

You no doubt are familiar with the guidelines for these assignments as found in the handbook for post-absolution temptations: Chapter 66, Section 15c-14l. Be sure to pay special attention to the footnotes. Let this memo serve as a reminder for those of you who so foolishly think we are unaware of your lazy reading habits. We in hell make it our business to keep records.

Your assignment to attack the faith of those leaving their time at this conference is at the same time challenging and opportune. They will no doubt be on what they call a “spiritual high.” You can capitalize on this. To be sure, the Enemy’s Spirit was at work on them. But, make them locate that work on the “high” they have, not on the Word they heard. This is accomplished by getting them in the immediate mode of comparison. Make them wonder why their church does not give them the same spiritual buzz, why their pastors and teachers don’t grasp the gospel enough (what a delicious word), why they cannot have this spiritual-feeling all the time. When you have them there, quickly get them to blame someone else for this, be it specific or general. Blame their pastor or parents or spouse. Blame their church, denomination, and that nebulous boogeyman, the culture. Keep them in a constant state of comparison.

But, here you must be careful. Be sure that, while they compare from a seat of judgment, they never realize they are doing it. Have them view themselves as the true Christians, not as those others who are the legalists. Ah, yes, as they leave, involve them as quickly as you can in that wonderful work of labeling. What wonderful work we have accomplished in convincing those in the Enemy’s grasp that they are not the judgmental ones because they are those who have the gospel, not those legalists in the denominations and congregations. What sweet, demonic superiority they will feel when judging the judgmentalism and the poor-grasp of the gospel in others. Always keep them thinking they are in the ideal location, part of the club that “gets it.”

One trick I always encourage will be a dangerous game for you because you will have to get close to the enemy’s greatest weapon: His Word. Follow my instructions closely so that you do not find yourselves allowing your people to hear what the enemy actually is after, repentance and forgiveness. The last thing you want ringing in their ears is this promise: that their sins are forgiven. You and I know that their sins are most certainly forgiven, washed in that woefully named “precious blood of Christ.” Get the news that it is “for them” out of their heads, that they are in fact sinners who need this. And, for hell’s sake, never let them hold on to that truth that rings through heaven and burns our ears, “Jesus died for me!”

But, I digress.

Here is where fixing their attention on the sins of others is so useful. I myself have made great work of this by twisting the words of our Enemy to work for our end. The words you will want to use are found when our Enemy told that all-too-real parable about that delightful Pharisee, a true work of art, that strolled up to the front of the sanctuary to foolishly boast of his righteousness before the Enemy. He attempted to sing the songs of hell into the halls of heaven by boasting of his own works and his own righteousness, saying, “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” If I were capable of delight, I’d find it here. But, the song is drown out by that infernal hymn from the back of the sanctuary, where that very tax collector cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The words make me spit as I write, just as much as they make the Enemy and his angels laugh and sing with delight. The fact that the Enemy justifies sinners like that is the cause of all our agony in hell. You know, we think we have them by rights, and He just takes them away by grace. For the fun of heaven! Ack!

Now, as awful as this is, you can twist this to your end. Your goal is to turn them into the Pharisee without them ever realizing it. The key with those who leave the conference this week is to always make sure that when they hear that parable, they put themselves in the back. Convince them they are the sinner who is justified, not because of the righteousness of our Enemy, but because they are not proud and judgmental like that delightful man in the front row. Get them to focus their attention, not on their sinfulness and need for mercy like the man in the back, but focus them on “those” in the front. Ah, what a useful adjective: “those.” Boost their pride with thoughts like the following. “I am in the gospel crowd! I thank you God that I am not like those legalists up front, those synodical bureaucrats, those theobros, those online trolls, those pietists, those... I thank you that I am not like them. I’m in the back with the sinners!” Yes, get them to belittle the pharisee and never let them see that, in so doing, you have coaxed them from the back of the church to the front and put a magnifying glass in their hand so they can examine more closely the sins of the pharisee.  All the while realizing they find the seats up front more comfortable.

With the weapon of comparison, now introduce those wonderful pronouns: us/we. What mischief we can cause with pronouns. Those legalists are not like “us” at this conference! We are in with the right crowd, we’ve found the inner circle of the gospel. They are not like us who know the gospel better than anyone! We are the righteous!

You see what we’ve done! We make them believe justification is by belonging, not by the Enemy’s Son substituting His life as an atoning sacrifice for theirs on that awful cross. Righteousness by being “in.” Yes, give them this new perspective on justification. Righteousness by belonging to the inner circle.

The key to all of this, dear demons, is to get them to think that this parable is a “how-to” lecture. How to truly repent. How not to be a Pharisee. Don’t let them in on the fact that our Enemy only wants to point out that everyone in this parable would make a delightful meal for us in hell were it not for His abhorrent mercy. Do not let them realize that the only hope for the tax-collecting sinner in the back is the same as that for the Pharisaical sinner in the front (for they are both most certainly sinners) is that infernal gracious work of our Enemy’s Son who took all of their sins to the cross. Do you know, He even tells the parable with that deceptive aim of getting the Pharisees to sit in the back and receive His mercy? What sort of justice is there in a power that even wants “those” sinners at His table for a feast!?!

You must not allow your people to let this parable expose their sin. For, it would only get them back where the enemy wants them, in the back of the church where He shows up to announce that those sinners, which much to our dismay He so personally and affectionately calls, “YOU” are forgiven.

One final note. Do not forget your tactical gear. You will need your hell-issued eye-protection and helmet. After all, these wretches are now reflecting the glory and light that shines upon them from that embarrassing Smile of our enemy. If ever they knew how His gaze upon them caused us such consternation and fear, our whole game would be up. For your own safety, never forget: they are in fact absolved! They are, in fact, shining with the Light of heaven they cannot yet see. They are forgiven and they are his. Keep this truth from ringing in their ears and guard your own eyes, for the glory of his suffocating love will be the death of you, my foul devils. Bring your helmets as well. With these words, the Enemy would crush your head. Be warned.


Lt. General Toadpipe

Former Apprentice to the Delectable Undersecretary Screwtape

[1] See CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Harper Collins, San Francisco, 2001). Pg. IX