“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the present is the point at time at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them…either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”
So Screwtape’s advice is to get the patient off from the Present. The past is a possibility but limited because the past itself is limited. So the future holds the most promise. It is, “the least like eternity” because it most invites us to think entirely imaginary. Sin itself is a type of looking to the future as we are concerned with the future pleasures when we commit to sin. As Screwtape says,
“Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and amibition look ahead…When the present pleasure arrives, the sin is already over.”
Now, Screwtape is not looking forward to encourage all types of thinking about the future. Planning for the future is good. What Screwtape wants is agonizing & focusing on the future even after the planning so that the patient will be
“haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell on earth…We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of a rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”
Thus Screwtape succeeds twofold when we look too much towards the future. 1) We miss out on the graces that are being offered right now to us which prevents us from growing closer to God. 2) We become obsessed with a unreal world and the pleasures of it which makes us more likely to sin as sin is based on the hope of future pleasures.
I want to conclude using the lyrics of a Garth Brooks song:
If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That shes my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last.
Tomorrow might not come. We can do our greatest good now; let us not keep putting things off. We have the opportunity to tell our loved ones we love them today; we have the opportunity to love people today; we have the opportunity to love and serve God today. If tomorrow never comes we shouldn’t have to wish that it had.
Next Letter: the Liturgy