Two Februarys ago, I drove our old family minivan about an hour away for one of my first job interviews after college. The snow was about three feet deep, old enough that it was tinted gray and covered in an icy sheen that glittered in the sun.
I fumbled my way through my interview, developed a stress headache, and recovered by listening to the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the way home. I realized how comforting it is to delve into an old, familiar story when you enter unknown territory: new jobs, new places, new people.
I thought about that drive through the snow this weekend as I unpacked in my first apartment. As I drove down here through highways edged with long green grass and golden black-eyed susans, I listened to Focus on the Family’s excellent radio drama of The Screwtape Letters. I marveled at C.S. Lewis’s cinematic prose and Andy Serkis’s ability to drop his voice to a low growl at key moments.
During the unpacking, my roommate and I put on Focus on the Family’s radio drama Dead Air, from their Father Gilbert series – less academic than The Screwtape Letters, but also insightful and far more terrifying.
Two stories which both explored demonic activity didn’t seem appropriate for the hot July day or the exciting/sad occasion of my first move out. But the beauty of Lewis and Paul McCusker’s stories are their demonstration of God’s love and grace conquering evil.
The Screwtape Letters made me think about how God has guided me this past spring. I prayed over a tentative five-year plan sometime in March: I wanted to move farther north and build a life near my previous job. But God gently guided me through circumstances this time (instead of speaking directly through prayer or His Word, as He has in the past). This summer has been a cascade of blessings and changes, events at the intersection of spiritual and physical reality: divine providence, Holy Spirit murmurings, situations beyond my control, and my own prayers and choices.
In Letter XXVII of The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape advises Wormwood to convince his “patient” (the human he is trying to tempt away from God) that petitionary prayer is useless. If the thing the patient prays for doesn’t happen, Screwtape instructs, make him think that petitionary prayers “don’t work”; if the thing does happen, make him think that it would have happened anyway and the prayer was redundant.
The truth of this free will-predestination paradox, which Lewis expresses through Screwtape, is that “the Enemy does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him do it.”
If Lewis is right, God heard my prayers for guidance and opportunity in His unbounded Now. And he gave me something far better than what I planned or asked for.
In Dead Air, detective-turned-priest Father Gilbert encounters a villain who calls himself “Legion” (after a group of demons in Mark 5) who is responsible for the disappearance of at least two girls. The drama explores the darkness of temptation and corruption, but Father Gilbert and one girl’s parents illustrate the supremacy of grace and forgiveness.
I haven’t directly faced the evil or suffering described in The Screwtape Letters or Dead Air. But as I review color schemes, hang up my clothes, stack dishes, and list the hundred things I forgot to buy, these stories remind me of the real war fought beneath the surface of ordinary things. The common and cosmic, everyday and eternal, prayed-for and predestined intertwine in the mystery of God’s grace.