“…fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.” ~Screwtape
While writing to encourage his nephew / apprentice Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ masterpiece, senior tempter Screwtape observes that many converts to Christianity have been reclaimed for hell. He tries to downplay the significance of Wormwood’s human “patient,” the one he’s charged with getting to hell, becoming a Christian by pointing out that, “One of our great allies at present is the Church itself.”
“Do not misunderstand me,” Screwtape explains. “I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as with an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.”
Satan and his devils prey on our continual confusion between appearance and reality. We sometimes view the Church based on purely physical terms: does it have a steeple, how many members, what’s their contribution, do they have a praise team, are they friendly, were the restrooms clean, is it well lit, is there enough parking, do they have a program for singles? And we view people in the Church the same way: what is she wearing, why did he say that, he didn’t say ‘hi’ to me, she’s been divorced, he never smiles, they don’t discipline their kids, they don’t come to Bible class.
I suppose it’s quite obvious how the devils in hell, intent on separating us from our God, could see the Church as a great ally. How we view and judge the Church sometimes completely contradicts, and therefore undermines, what are our true beliefs about the Church. We know the Church is God’s elect. But when we fuss and argue and split over insignificant issues and ideas, when we treat each other worse than we treat strangers at the store, we can’t help but see the Church as worldly and ordinary. Nothing special. We know that men and women are created in the image of God and made to live for eternity. Forever. But when we see an old man or a sick woman, or when we notice deformities or other frailties, or when we focus on our own aches and pains, we all begin to seem very temporary. The one we sit next to in our Church assembly, to us, may seem weak and silly. To Satan and his devils, that same person is known in hell as a “great warrior” in the Kingdom of God. But we don’t see it.
If we’re not careful, that constant confusion between appearance and reality can kill us. Judging the Church and God’s people in the Church based on outward physical appearance and not invisible unseen reality plays right into the devil’s hands.