Keep on doing the Same Old Thing
“Pastor, why do we have to keep on doing the same old thing?” I’m sure just about every pastor has heard some version of this question. Maybe the questioner is out for blood or maybe he really has good intentions. But, as C.S. Lewis artfully shows in his correspondence as the demon Screwtape, this kind of question and this distaste for permanent things comes from the pit of hell. Here’s a portion of The Screwtape Letters, in which the old, senior-level demon Screwtape is instructing his nephew Wormwood on how best to deal with the human (the “patient”) whom he is trying to tempt away from his new Christian friends:
My dear Wormwood,
The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.
The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy [God] (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.
Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. (The Screwtape Letters, pp.135–6)
Screwtape goes on to explain the great value this demand for absolute novelty has for their demonic activity. The demand is ultimately destructive to the humans because “it diminishes pleasures while increasing desire” (p.137). But this is nothing more than that first temptation where the absolute novelty of the forbidden fruit was extolled while God’s command was discarded as boring, undesirable, stagnant, and horrifying.
Let’s not give in to the devil’s same old trick, but rather love the Same Old Things of God. Receive His Word, His grace, His body and blood—always the same and yet always new. Pray the prayers the Church teaches. Sing her hymns. Observe her fasts and celebrate her feasts. Forget the devil and all his tired novelties. Let’s keep on doing the Same Old Thing.