The devil’s copy of the Bible is not gathering dust on a nightstand. It’s the most dog-eared, underlined, highlighted book in his library. Satan is steeped in the Scriptures.
“Dear God, make me right with you, then kill me.” For many years, that was my go-to prayer. I was certain that should I die in my sorry spiritual condition, I’d awake in hell. Life no longer held hope for me, so I envied those six feet under this world of hurt. So blending together this cocktail petition of doubt, despair, and fear, I prayed a wish for death, with one precondition.
This is in an excerpt from a speech delivered to the graduating class of Discordia Seminary. After some preliminary remarks, the speaker, a renowned devil named Lietongue, went on to say the following.
Brothers, the rich and diverse education you have received has more than adequately prepared you for the ministry of temptation to which you have been called. Besides your core classes on Twisting Scripture and Introducing Heresy, you have also studied Immorality Rationalization, the Inculcation of Church Division, and much more. All of these will, of course, aid you in your service to our Father below.
Some of you, however, may be floundering in this vast sea of knowledge. You’re wondering, “How will I ever keep it all straight?” To assist you, therefore, allow me to take this opportunity to summarize for you the three main objectives of your office. I assure you that if you keep this triad of goals ever before your eyes, you will successfully shepherd your flock into the arms of our Master.
- With regard to evil, your objective is not merely to tempt humans to do bad things. Yes, of course, there is profit in theft and adultery and such, but only if you follow through to the next step. A murderer, for instance, is no good to you if he later regrets his action and returns to the Enemy. What have you then accomplished? In fact, that murderer may well be even harder for us to reach if he confessed to the Foe and tasted the poison of his forgiveness. Your first goal, therefore, is not simply to lure people into evil, but once they have committed some wrong, to convince them that they are so bad, so corrupted, so shamed, that the Enemy wants nothing to do with them anymore. Enlarge upon their guilt. Emphasize divine justice. Erase the word “Father” from their hearts and in its place write, “Judge.”
- With regard to good, your objective is not merely to prevent humans from doing what is right. In fact, it can be to your advantage when they are engaged in so-called righteous deeds. There will be occasions when you applaud their efforts to be faithful spouses, loving parents, hard workers, and the like. Co-opt these good works. Use them to your advantage. Tell the humans that the more they do for their God, the more their God will love them. In so doing, ever so subtly, you will begin to convince them that there is a direct correlation between his acceptance of them and their performance of good. Pride will naturally grow from this assumption, as will their understanding of their status before him. Before long, every good deed will, in their mind, move them closer to their Lord. At the same time, they will begin to disdain those whom they see as morally inferior to themselves. As you know, we were able to do much in this respect with the Pharisees. Make it your goal to breed more of these zealots for the church. People will do good things; make sure those good things become the source of their hope for divine approval.
- Finally, and most importantly, there is that sinister proclamation of our Enemy that you must silence at all costs. You know what I’m talking about. Every class at Discordia Seminary is crafted so as to aid you in muting, corrupting, and twisting this message. Our Foe claims that because of the death and resurrection of he-who-will-not-be-named, he has already made everything right between him and humanity. In his disgusting words, he has “reconciled the world to himself.” He claims to love them unconditionally, forgive them freely, welcome them wholeheartedly, all because of this so-called son. Thankfully, this proclamation is not only foolish to us; it is diametrically opposed to human experience as well. It is unreasonable to them that an innocent man should die in the stead of guilty men, that they should be loved even while they hated the lover. Your daily task is to undermine what our Enemy calls “grace.” Redefine it as “spiritual power.” Reinterpret it as “earned acceptance.” Make it contingent upon human cooperation. Warn that its promulgation will produce lawlessness. I don’t care how you attack it, just that you attack it. If there is one overarching purpose of your calling, one primary reason for the existence of your office, it is the eradication of the message that our Enemy is defined by grace.
Brothers, I applaud the work you have done to reach this milestone. The world is waiting for you. Go forth and labor zealously. Our Father will be watching.
My Dear Shadowbrand,
I admire the zeal you have exhibited in your struggle to bring Joseph into the hands of Our Father below. I need not remind you, however, that zeal is never sufficient in and of itself. To zeal must be added cunning, and cunning must issue in success. In your file I see nothing but one dismal failure after another. Joseph stubbornly clings to the Enemy. He still waits for those dreams of his to come true.
This latest turn of events, however, presents you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Press your advantage. If Joseph will ever be vulnerable, it is now.
As you know, Joseph recently interpreted the dreams of his fellow inmates, the cupbearer and the baker. The latter, I rejoice to say, is now firmly in our clutches; the former is free and serving again in the court of Pharaoh. In the weeks and months to come, one of our brothers will be hard at work on the cupbearer. That disgusting human tendency to repay kindness with kindness will be met with counterarguments such as, “Yes, but we all know those foreigners will lie about anything, including their innocence,” and “If he were truly a man of God, then he wouldn’t be in prison now, would he?” Over time, any inclination the cupbearer might have to speak a good word to Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf will seem less and less of a moral necessity. With humans, it’s almost too easy to turn “maybe later” into “never.”
Here is where your task becomes of vital importance. To begin with, hope will be your most powerful weapon. Stir up in Joseph a lusty anticipation of impending release. With the dawning of each new day, whisper to him that today will certainly be the day when he is vindicated, when his good name is cleared of the trumped up charges of attempted rape. Lure him to hope like he’s never hoped before. Do this, I suggest, for at least the first month.
Then, once you have fattened Joseph with hope, gradually introduce him to a diet of doubt. Make him begin to count the days since the cupbearer’s release. Reacquaint him with the pains of prison life that he may have overlooked during his month of excess hope. At the same time, labor on his imagination. Let him think of the life of ease in the palace that is enjoyed by the cupbearer—the man he helped to free! Let the bitter irony of this man’s dream leading to his release, and Joseph’s dreams leading to his eventual imprisonment, grow more bitter by the day. Your goal, my dear Shadowbrand, is for Joseph to grow angry with the man whom he thought was his ticket to freedom; then to feed that child of anger until it grows into the adult of hatred; and finally to bring forth from hatred’s womb the offspring of revenge, spite, and mistrust.
But even if you accomplish these goals, you have only gone halfway. We are waging war, I need not remind you, on both the horizontal and vertical levels. It is not enough that he hates this man, the cupbearer. Joseph’s blade of hatred must penetrate all the way through this man and plunge into the Enemy himself. Gradually transform the image of the cupbearer in his mind from the Enemy’s emissary to his tease. Suggest that the Enemy was only tantalizing him, holding out hope as a mirage in this desert dungeon.
If you can move Joseph, emotion by emotion, thought by thought, closer to the conception of our Enemy as the Grand Deceiver, then with the mere push of a finger, he will plummet off his mountain of hope into the pit of despair. His dreams will seem nightmares from childhood. His faith will seem an irrational fixation upon a sadistic, celestial tyrant. His hope…well, he will have no hope, for in the religion of despair, hope has been excommunicated. The vacuum left by it is easily filled with bitterness over the past, selfish pity over the woes of the present, and a blank stare into the futile future.
Do not waste this opportunity, Shadowbrand. Our Father below is watching. I trust you will not disappoint him again.
This fictional epistle is, of course, patterned after The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, whose literary gifts I do not pretend to match. In my studies of Joseph's life, including the chapter in Genesis that is the basis for this article (40), I have often wondered at the temptations he must have faced. I suspect that the two years which elapsed from the cupbearer's release until Joseph's liberation were the most difficult of his life. For there are few sufferings harder to endure than to have one's hope built up, only to see it dashed to the ground. But thanks be to God, who sustained Joseph, and still sustains us, that we might cling to His word of promise even in the face of the most diabolical of temptations to despair.
My thanks to Haleigh Morgan for the suggestion of "Shadowbrand" as the name of the letter's recipient.