After attending a production of “C. W. Lewis on Stage” this week, my husband and I both came away impressed by one particular phrase: “contented worldliness.” It comes from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, in which Screwtape, an experienced demon, is coaching his nephew on the finer points of tempting humans. In this passage, Screwtape discusses the problem of war:
And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. (p. 27 of the 1982 paperback edition)
Now it’s true that contentment is generally a good thing. The Bible urges us to embrace it (Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:6; Hebrews 13:5).But we’re also warned:
Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, NIV).
In other words, when our worldly existence is free of obvious threat, a subtler enemy lurks at our door. His name is Contented Worldliness.
Picture a father who has just come home from a long trip. Of course, he comes bearing gifts because he thought of his kids often during his absence. But what he really wants is the reunion with his family. He wants them to smother him in joyous hugs and kisses while exclaiming, “We missed you, Daddy!”
Contented Worldliness turns us into children who grab the gift from our father’s hands, tear off the wrapping and packaging, and race away to play with our new toys.
Where does that leave God? At the door, standing in a pile of trash and yearning for a hug.
Hosea sums up Contented Worldliness this way: “When they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6, NIV). And Scripture provides us with many examples of this foe’s handiwork. David’s faith was strong when he had to fight giants and evade murderers; but he fell (hard!) when his position and reputation were secure. We see this pattern repeated in the lives of Solomon, Asa, Hezekiah, and others.
So how do we fight this threat? That same passage in Deuteronomy gives us the solution: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day” (verse 11). But I also like the way Screwtape puts it:
Remember, always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. (The Screwtape Letters, p. 59)
For my part, I find there’s no better way of “abandoning the clamour of self-will” than to spend time daily (at least) with the Daddy who “sets such an absurd value” on me.
What about you—how do you battle Contented Worldliness?