Why C.S. Lewis Would Not Have Liked Me Very Much

Those who have been around here for a while know that I am a C.S. Lewis junkie. I have read and reread him, and have been edified by him in ways beyond reckoning. If I were to calculate the impact that various writers have had on me—and there have been many who have—he would always come in first, and by a large margin.

Even where you find my caveats—as in his early accommodations with evolution, or in the atrocious things he says about some of the psalms—I find myself simultaneously appalled and edified. For example, in Reflections on the Psalms, he says this:

“Still more in the Psalmists’ tendency to chew over and over the cud of some injury, to dwell in a kind of self-torture on every circumstance that aggravates it, most of us can recognise something we have met in ourselves. We are, after all, blood brothers to these ferocious, self-pitying, barbaric men” (Reflections, p. 26).

But still, reading through that book, which I think his worst, I find myself instructed and blessed at every turn. So go figure.

The problem lies with those Christians, like myself, who do not recoil from the imprecatory psalms in the same way that Lewis does. Lewis thinks that these psalms are included in God’s Word as a sort of object lesson, a “don’t try this at home, kids” kind of thing. “The ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not its perpetrators) is hateful to God” (Reflections, p. 33).

As one of those who believe that we are to harmonize the imprecatory psalms with the rest of Scripture, and that we are to utilize them in our corporate worship and private devotions, I am afraid that Lewis would most likely regard me as a dangerous radical, as one who likes the permission for hate that such psalms seem to provide. I think he would find me on the wrong side of a caution he issued in another related respect.

“The hard sayings of our Lord are wholesome to those only who find them hard . . . For there are two states of mind which face the Dominical paradoxes without flinching. God guard us from one of them” (The Dangers of National Repentance, Essays, p. 296).

There are three quick reasons I would like to offer for suggesting that Lewis is wrong about this. I would like to persuade him that he should, after all, accept my Facebook friend request.

The first is that Lewis knows how to cut slack on this very same kind of issue, but the persons involved have to be in the New Testament. He alluded to the Lord’s hard sayings in the quotation above. He recognizes the ferocity of the ancient psalmists in the Magnificat. There he does what he ought to do with the psalms—say that there is a good way to emulate this, and a bad way to do so. I would argue that Lewis should follow his own example here.

Second, the apostles do not have the same attitude toward the imprecatory psalms that Lewis did. One of the fiercer ones is quoted by Peter when they are considering a replacement for Judas.

“For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take” (Acts 1:20, see Psalm 69:25, and then Psalm 109:8).

“Let his days be few; And let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, And his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: Let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places” (Psalm 109:8–10).

Psalm 109 is cited by Lewis as being one that is particularly bad. But if it were that bad, then why didn’t Peter seem to recognize it? I believe that Lewis fell prey here to a common mistake, that of assuming the New Testament writers more or less “share” our world, as distinct from the ancients, when actually they were much closer to the ancients than they were to us.

And third, the New Testament does not invite us to divide the psalms into two categories, the kind that bless us and the kind that repulse us. We are simply sent to the undifferentiated psalms. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). And the hymnbook of the Christian church is to be the entire psalter. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19, cf. Col. 3:16).

So then, what? I would return to the caution Lewis gave in his essay on National Repentance. Some people want to use the imprecatory psalms as a way of providing cover for their own personal anger issues. They want to break the teeth in somebody’s jaw, and Psalm 3 provides them with a ready answer if rebuked. But there are others who understand that a hard world sometimes requires hard words. Lewis gets this when the Lord delivers the hard words. But I think we can and should extend the principle.

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kyriosity
Member

Time for a plug for this book.

Daniel Fisher
Member

Appreciate the plug, I’ll add it to my list. Additionally, “War Psalms of the Prince of Peace” was one i was assigned in seminary that I found most insightful at the time (I recall it addressed Lewis’ comments); I also recall appreciating much from Tremper Longman’s “God is a Warrior.”

kyriosity
Member

Also, Lewis liked and married Joy Davidman, so his standards for personal relationships weren’t exceedingly high. I think your chances for that FB friendship are good.

lndighost
Member

What was objectionable about her?

kyriosity
Member

Here’s my review of the biography: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1718320047

lndighost
Member

Thanks for that. I’ll file that for future investigation. I’m often torn about whether to discover the flaws of my heroes.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Lewis’s friends didn’t like her very much, and it certainly sounds as if they tried to. From what I have read, she was a bit brash, a bit argumentative, and absolutely not raised with the more restrained manners of typical middle class English women. It is very funny, in a karmic kind of way, that Lewis so frequently criticized women who forced their way into men’s academic/political discussions at times when he would have preferred them not to, yet he married the very model of such a woman. Some of the criticism she received may have been unfair. She had… Read more »

kyriosity
Member

The culture clash wouldn’t have bothered me. I think the stuffy Britishness of the day needed that. But her dishonesty really bugged me.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Valerie, I haven’t read much about her. What was she dishonest about? Are you thinking of the immigration business?

Micael Gustavsson
Guest
Micael Gustavsson

Not having read the book I also wonder what dishonesty and unfaithfulness you are talking about. Are there things about Joy that are not generally known? And is the book trustworthy? There have been biographies, like A.N.Wilsons, about CS Lewis that are not.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Hi Micael, I grew curious so did some digging on the Net. Who knows if this is all true, but I am hoping that Valerie can tell us. Joy Davidman was the prodigy child of New York Jewish parents who graduated with a Master’s from Columbia by the age of twenty. Horrified by scenes of poverty during the depression, she became a communist. Eventually she converted to Christianity, but was still unhappily married to a difficult and alcoholic husband. She started writing to Lewis, and fell in love with him (as well as with all things English). She took her… Read more »

Jane
Member

As I watch this discussion, I’m coming around to Valerie’s way of thinking. I knew nothing really of Joy before, so I didn’t have an opinion one way or another. I think the point is that Joy may well have been a person any of us could have been friends with and cut a lot of slack for, knowing her background and understanding that sanctification looks different for everyone and happens on an individual timeline, and we all have sins and foibles that may just be more quiet and/or prettied up than the flaws of Joy that we’ve seen described.… Read more »

kyriosity
Member

“It doesn’t make me think Lewis a fool, but it makes me think that he was rather weak in discernment in this area of life….” (Jane)

Exactly. Joy was deceitful and manipulative. Jack was too easily deceived and manipulated. Not wickedness, just weakness.

I wish Alan Jacobs had had access to the sources Abigail Santamaria discovered when he wrote The Narnian. His perspective would have been helpful.

kyriosity
Member

Also, just to be fair, I didn’t loathe Joy altogether. There was a lot to sympathize with in her, and she really was a brilliant mind. I have no reason to cast doubt on the genuineness of her faith, so I trust she shines in glory now, “a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship….”

Again, I recommend the book, which I probably should have given four stars, but I’m a crank. ????

kyriosity
Member

Micael — There are lots of quotes from her own writing that do not reflect well on her. I did not think the author was out to do a hatchet job, and I had come to the book hoping to like Joy. I recommend reading it, though it sure made me sad.

insanitybytes22
Member

LOL! It’s okay Pastor Wilson, I totally trust the Lord to show you the error of your ways on this.

Just for the record, Peter, by far my favorite, had issues with this too. He did once lop off a man’s ear and then, with a complete lack of self awareness, proceeded to deny Christ 3 times. It should come as no surprise that he would be found quoting psalms.

bethyada
Member

I cannot tell if you genuinely think that Peter was mistaken in quoting this Psalm or you are being sarcastic.

insanitybytes22
Member

Peter is declaring prophecy has come to pass, he is saying “as it is written.”

The question Wilson posed was “But if it were that bad, then why didn’t Peter seem to recognize it? ”

Because Peter is not the one advocating using imprecatory psalms to curse ones enemies, that’s why.

bethyada
Member

Still not sure what you are saying (though you don’t appear to be being sarcastic).

You’re initial comment suggests that Peter was not reliable because he cut off an ear and he denied Christ. Are you now arguing that Peter is reliable and is recognising a prophecy whereas Doug thinks that the Psalms are for our imitation?

insanitybytes22
Member

You are totally projecting. I NEVER said Peter was mistaken nor did I say he was unreliable nor was I being sarcastic.

bethyada
Member

I don’t project. I was trying to understand was your comment meant. There was no way to tell if it was or was not sarcastic as you are sometimes, so I asked. You then wrote, contracting Doug here, Peter, by far my favorite, had issues with this too. He did once lop off a man’s ear and then, with a complete lack of self awareness, proceeded to deny Christ 3 times. It should come as no surprise that he would be found quoting psalms. So is Doug right, or Lewis? You sound like you are agreeing with Lewis and against… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

I am agreeing with CS Lewis and not with Pastor Wilson. I am also not “increasingly offended.”

Peter is using those references in a prophetic sense,as if
to say prophecy has now been fulfilled. He is establishing the Divinity of Christ.

Even outside of that truth,it would still fit in well with the character of Peter, a man who once lopped off a man’s ear, would indeed be speaking of destruction of one’s enemies. However that does not make it a commandment anymore than lopping off an ear was a commandment.In fact, just the opposite.

Dave W
Guest
Dave W

Yes, MeMe, and no surprise Paul should hope for false teachers to accidentally cut their genitals off; and no surprise Paul should wish for the damnation of everyone who doesn’t love Jesus. And no surprise that the Glorified, Spiritually Perfect (or Perfected) Saints and Angels in heaven should rejoice over terrible judgments falling upon the wicked in Revelation. There are small exegetical/theological mistakes, and there are big ones. In speaking that way about Acts 1 you are guilty of a big one. Let’s just hope you don’t proceed further with that kind of thinking, since it has taken men and… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

Baloney, Dave. There is a huge difference between the biblical account of human men wishing death upon their enemies and people declaring that God actually wants us to use His imprecatory psalms to put curses on our enemies.

God does not command us to hate. We are told to love our enemies, to bless those that curse you.

I cannot believe anyone would teach such a thing! That’s not only false, it’s bloody appalling.

wisdumb
Guest
wisdumb

Stop the argument!!
I wish death upon all men! And that death is in the death of Christ.
What follows is resurrection and life, and that is where vengence, mercy, and grace meet.

JP Stewart
Member

Based on some other comments, it’s pretty clear MeMe is mostly concerned with her 21st Century views and agenda…and not what that pesky Bible says. God made in the image of man and all that.

insanitybytes22
Member

“God made in the image of man and all that.”

Is that what you believe? Because that would sure explain a huge part of the problem here.

JP Stewart
Member

(1) The Bible primarily and (2) the consensus of the church throughout history (not just the last 40 years)

insanitybytes22
Member

“Hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures.

It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate.”

-The Screwtape Letters

Dave W
Guest
Dave W

But, as with all real things, there is yet more complexity to be observed. God hates. Does he do so as the result of fear? No, God fears no one, so some kind of hate exists which is not the result of fear. Is it possible for man to experience this fear-free hatred? With all due love and respect to Lewis (and my love for him surely teeters on the edge of extreme) he was, in his own words, a “Converted Pagan.” Anyone who has read him long and carefully knows full well the difference in flavor between Him and… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

Than God bless the converted pagans who seem to know our Lord and His word so much better than those born into His Western church. It is not Lewis who insults the Psalm.

To preach hatred in the Lord’s name as if God Himself advocates it is totally unacceptable to me.

Silas
Guest
Silas

It sounds like you have an issue with scripture. Fortunately God doesn’t care if His word is acceptable to you.

insanitybytes22
Member

I have no issue with scripture. I have a problem with people who try to use God’s word as justification for their own hatred.

wisdumb
Guest
wisdumb

MeMe,
Is it ok to hate wickedness?

Dave W
Guest
Dave W

I hear you, MeMe. It might help if I mentioned my inclination is probably the same as yours. Fact is (Prepare for Confession of Sin), I have long been tempted to take Lewis’ teaching over Scripture, because I find it frankly more attractive. But I think you and I would agree in principle at least (if not in practice, it seems) that the Prophets, Apostles, and Christ must decide for us what is truth; Lewis is on target just so long as he remains in step with them, and many times he does not, regrettably. I am not advocating preaching… Read more »

bethyada
Member

I don’t think Lewis is wrong here. If there is fear then one could combine it with hate or with cowardice. Screwtape is suggesting that it is better to combine fear with hate for it compensates.

But this does not speak to hate absence fear. One can hate without fear (as you also say above)

prayersofadoration
Member

“Lewis fell prey here to a common mistake […]”

That’s a serious charge to bring against the guy who taught us about chronological snobbery. It verges on accusing him of not being a very good reader. You could be right–I agree that he’s wrong about the Psalms–but still. Could there not be another explanation? I kind of like thinking of David as ferocious, self-pitying, and barbaric. So are we in our better moments, when we rise out of our modern malaise of niceness.

kyriosity
Member

But the mistake he fell prey to was chronological snobbery.

prayersofadoration
Member

That’s what I find hard to believe. Anyone else, sure, but him?

kyriosity
Member

He was human. And British. And flawed enough to have married Joy Davidman.

gabe
Guest
gabe

Yeah hmm…I guess I would agree and not agree. Yeah some Psalmist’s words were harsh, but also in a time when the Covenant was quite different from ours. So pray for justice, yes? For God to destroy them? Nope. In the New Covenant Christ teaches us a more excellent way with regards to our enemies that would have been quite foreign to them. Loving, blessing and praying for your enemies is a whole other beast from an eye for an eye.

kyriosity
Member

Read Crying for Justice. It explains how we can pray the imprecatory Psalms today.

Katecho
Member

gabe wrote: So pray for justice, yes? For God to destroy them? Nope. In the New Covenant Christ teaches us a more excellent way with regards to our enemies that would have been quite foreign to them. However, we also have this passage: When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and… Read more »

drewnchick
Member

This, I think, is a common confusion among us Christians–we lose the context–or we are badly taught (or assume) that every passage of Scripture has a “personal application.” Well, no… WE are not commanded to take someone’s babies and bash them on the rocks…unless we are engaged in actual, physical warfare with Islam and they have holed up as disgusting cowards in an orphanage. Bombs away, right? We can answer TWO problems with one solution: kings get to kill off the enemies (and pray for God’s justice to trod them underfoot, crack their skulls, wipe out their lineage, with all… Read more »

gabe
Guest
gabe

Surely you see the difference between where we are now and when God actually shows up in judgment? The eschaton is quite different than where we currently are now in a time of God wanting to show mercy saying he desires that none should perish. Of course he is going to pour out his wrath when he comes. In Revelation 6 Those crying out for justice have already passed into eternity, they are told to wait until more join them in the ranks of martyrdom. Yes it is governments that have the job of justice and the responsibility of the… Read more »

Katecho
Member

gabe wrote:

The eschaton is quite different than where we currently are now in a time of God wanting to show mercy saying he desires that none should perish. Of course he is going to pour out his wrath when he comes.

Jesus said that all of the righteous blood from Abel to Zechariah would be reckoned against that generation (Matthew 23:33-36), so I don’t hold that Revelation 6:9-10 is referring to the eschaton, but even if it did, it is still a petition by New Covenant martyrs for judgment and vengeance, rather than love and mercy.

Dave W
Guest
Dave W

Then Paul sinned, by your standard, when he prayed that all who don’t love Jesus would go to hell in the end of 1Corinthians, or when he wished the false teachers in Galatia would slip and emasculate themselves. And note carefully: He did so under the New Covenant. It is also under the New Covenant that Jesus will (or did, depending on your eschatology, though it is irrelevant to the argument) kill so many people as to create a blood river 200 miles long as high as the horse’s bridle. And notice that as Jesus carries out such “horrible” judgments… Read more »

gabe
Guest
gabe

Since you misconstrued half my points I won’t bother to state them again but suffice to say if you want to curse your enemies feel free. But I am more interested in Jesus’ taught standard in the beatitudes.

Dave W
Guest
Dave W

No, I don’t think I misconstrued. I understand your argument to be that our New Covenant situation creates a different setting such that we are cut off from the holy hatred of the OC. I showed that is false by referring to the same holy hatred exhibited within the NC. Sometimes I want to curse enemies, but not as often as MeMe apparently thinks :) And you shouldn’t tell me to feel free to do what you believe Scripture forbids, neither does it matter which strand of biblical teaching happens to interest you more; all that really matters in the… Read more »

gabe
Guest
gabe

You are absolutely right we should hold to what God actually teaches which of course is all of the scripture. But it is theologically inconsistent to rest in the ideas of both love your enemies and hate your enemies which is contradictory and ignores the changes in the covenants rendering Jesus meaning pointless. Just because Paul dialectically argues tersley over a heated topic that frustrated him doesn’t mean I should adopt a teaching that flies in the face of Jesus’ plain meaning on something pretty straight forward. So again if you want to adopt such a method go ahead, I… Read more »

Dave W
Guest
Dave W

Gabe, you need to think this over more. Jesus also tells us we’ll go to hell if we call anyone fool in Matt 5. Then he calls people fools in Matt 23. Then James and Paul both call people fools. Is the Scripture contradictory here? I assume we are both inerrantists and so our answer is No. But I think you should be able to see we are forced to do some leg work in figuring how to put the evidence together. You speak as if Paul’s comments are frustrated argument and thus NOT the Word of God; are you… Read more »

Katecho
Member

gabe wrote:

As I have said already the fact that Jesus comes in judgment is in his authority to do so, but it is not a model we adopt, vengeance is his.

It isn’t simply that Jesus comes in judgment, it’s that New Covenant saints pray for His judgment and vengeance to come. So New Covenant imprecatory prayer is something that we should seek to understand and not merely dismiss.

drewnchick
Member

I disagree, Pastor Wilson. I rather think Lewis would have liked you immensely, and the two of you would have whiled away MANY an hour in an English pub (or Idahoan smokehouse) debating, pontificating, and ruminating on this and many weightier things besides. I think Lewis would have quite roundly enjoyed your presence, your wit, and your love for literature, laughter, and our Lord.

bethyada
Member

And his wife’s cooking.

Ginny Yeager
Guest
Ginny Yeager

“why he wouldn’t have liked me very much…”
Plus the fact that you like to dive into the scrum of political commentary–he could have cared less about such things.

My Portion Forever
Member

I believe Lewis was concerned and wrote about the direction society was taking (that is why he wrote Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, and other writings), whether that had political or social implications. He wasn’t into politics for politics’ sake… but neither is Pastor Wilson.

Ginny Yeager
Guest
Ginny Yeager

Lewis was not a current events/political creature. Whereas DW, I think, enjoys armchair quarterbacking political calls. It wasn’t meant as a criticism.

Jane
Member

I don’t think you can read That Hideous Strength and think that Lewis didn’t reflect on current events. It was in a big picture way rather than doing play by play on specific developments, but he was definitely addressing matters specific to his own time.

Ginny Yeager
Guest
Ginny Yeager

“Yet, even so, I can hardly regret having escaped the appalling waster of time and spirit which would have been involved in reading the war news or taking more than an artificial and formal part in conversations about the war….Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers.” Surprised by Joy

Jane
Member

Well, yes, but being a news junkie and caring about current events aren’t precisely the same thing. I’m totally on board with not being a reactive news junkie, but I think understanding our times by means of paying attention to what’s going on isn’t just okay, it’s required. And I think Lewis did that.

Daniel Fisher
Member

Reflects my sentiments. I have bought every one of Lewis’s books on audio and have listened repeatedly… all except one. I can’t bring myself to buy an audio copy of “Reflections on the Psalms” for the very reasons noted above. I can listen to all the others with delight and pass by the occasional difficulty, but the difficulties in this work are just too deep and pervasive for me to enjoy listening to it. Not that there aren’t still great treasures as well, but just wouldn’t be an enjoyable listen to me with so much that would grate against my… Read more »

Daniel Fisher
Member

Seeing the discussion that arose from this article, I humbly submit this Scripture as a reminder that the sentiments of the imprecatory Psalms are not simply an Old Testament phenomenon:

‘They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” ‘
Revelation 6:10

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

I think Lewis would judge you on how you behave in real life – not on a small difference in liturgical practice. The “caution he issued in another related respect” is, in essence, the same one you have recently made in relation to modern progressives who proclaim, with overly self-satisfied gusto, the urgent necessity to repent of our nation’s past sins (in part by tearing down statues and trashing old ideas). It also tracks nicely to your post last week about taking offence. Here is some more of the context for the quote: Is it not, then, the duty of… Read more »

John Callaghan
Guest
John Callaghan

And here’s some interesting background on C.S. Lewis’ article, The Danger of National Repentance:

https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2015/04/16/dangerletters/

johnkw47
Member

Love it when Lewis fans recognize his shortcomings. He probably likes your blog now.