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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

Merton Channels Screwtape

Here’s a challenging passage from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation that will bring many of us up short:

The devil is not afraid to preach the will of God provided he can preach it in his own way.

The argument goes something like this: “God wills you to do what is right. But you have an interior attraction which tells you, by a nice warm glow of satisfaction, what is right. Therefore, if others try to interfere and make you do something that does not produce this comfortable sense of interior satisfaction, quote Scripture, tell them that you ought to obey God rather than men, and then go ahead and do your own will, do the thing that gives you that nice warm glow.”

I have felt the lure of that inner glow, haven’t you? That lovely, soothing confirmation that despite the nagging pricks of conscience and the irritating bits of Scripture that intrude, I am nonetheless doing what is right…however wrong it actually is.

I have seen that dark magic also in the eyes of students who have piously asked my advice on a matter, listened with apparent earnestness as I point out that Scripture, tradition, and common sense would indicate a contrary choice to the one they prefer, and then with an unnerving calmness replied that God has clearly told them—they feel it in their hearts!—that they must do what seems to me flatly disobedient to the express will of God.

“Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25).

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).


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