Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

I’ve been listening through the works of C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and A Grief Observed so far) these past few weeks on audiobook. Though it’s been fairly difficult to get the whole of his argument, it’s been helpful to hear each work in context. Lewis was someone who only existed in my head as a series of quotable quotes up to this point. In Letter 27 of The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape encourages his nephew who is also a “tempter” to interfere with an unsuspecting Christian’s prayer life.

Here is an excerpt:

But since your patient has contracted the terrible habit of obedience, he will probably continue such “crude” prayers whatever you do. But you can worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result. Don’t forget to use the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and “therefore it would have happened anyway”, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective. 

Lewis is so perceptive here. Satan would have us distrust God whether the answer is yes or no. When God says “No, you can’t have that serpent” we’re tempted to say that our prayers are “ineffective,” totally missing the goodness of God in the answer. This is sheer, basic unbelief (believing something other than what God has said). Then to make matters worse, we opt for a material world of causes and effects when the answer is “Yes, here is a gift of love for you.” This also is unbelief. We must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him for salvation (Heb 11:6), yet we often believe that God isn’t and that he doesn’t reward those who seek him in petionary prayer. Let us strive to believe that his No’s and his Yes’s are both real and good! Consider Matthew 7:7–11:

7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

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