Imagining the Devil

I am reading for the first time the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. In this satirical novel written in epistolary form, a devil named Screwtape mentors his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter, on how to deceive humans (referred to as “patients”), undermining their faith, in order to trap and ultimately destroy them. Through his brilliant approach, Lewis reveals just how much people are influenced by demons. Demons are ever so ready to destroy, corrupt, divide, separate, attack, and pollute anything and anyone who upholds godly morals. “And Christians are not immune, in fact, Christians are the primary target.”

To read this novel well, I need to use my imagination. I must recalibrate the eyes of fantasy to the eyes of the reality conveyed through the work. I’ve never met a devil. To picture this talkative, reasoning bloke of a devil, Screwtape, I need my imagination: will he be speaking with a British accent? Does he wear a hat, t-shirt and jeans? What does he look like? Also, to apply Lewis’ scenario by imagination, I imagine the devils closely watching me in order to trip me up. Are they hovering over me as I sleep at night? Perhaps they trail after me in the kitchen as I cook dinner? Or, maybe they prowl in the living room as I gather with my children? How come they know us so well? How do they gather their exact and intimate information on us? How deep into my thoughts can the whisps of the devil enter? Where does God say, “Not one step farther, devils. This is it.”

For Lewis, imagination is not the opposite of reality. For him, “reason is the organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Imagination interprets with powerful clarity the messages of truth. Or, as Tony Reinke puts it in his brilliant chapter on Christian imagination, “using fantasy in literature does not make it fictitious; it’s often a more forceful way to communicate […] it can reveal forces, communities, and struggles that straightforward language cannot.” (“Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books”)

Imagination in literature is a God-given asset to our minds and hearts to help us better grasp the facets of the truth. Or, as Reinke puts it, our imagination assembles the pieces and parts of fiction into “a stunning whole” ready to be deeply enjoyed and fully lived. Parts of the Bible appeal to our imagination in order to better assemble them together into a cohesive reality. Without imagination to assemble these episodes together—revelation, prophecies, genealogies, the parting of the Red Sea, the birth of Jesus, the persecution of the church, the resurrection of Jesus, and so on—would be scattered, disconnected bizarre stories. And yet, through our imagination, these sections are brought together into the bigger picture of the Bible, rightly attached to our magnificent and creative God who imagines, and therefore we can imagine, too.

As I use my imagination to read Lewis’ 31 letters, I am actually “seeing” clearer the unseen, devilish powers at work behind our temptations. Lewis understood that to persevere in our pursuit of godliness, we must use imagination as an ally into the enemy’s crafty schemes to wake us up to their real existence rather than be lulled to sleep by fantastic imageries that depress our senses. The good imagination makes us holy, not amused. It jolts us with spiritual shocks of various voltages just enough to awaken us from the “spiritual paralyses of idols” and the “contended mundane” we so often choose to pull over our sleepy heads and snoozing hearts.