Reading C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms for the first time, I came away with some “reflections” that surely should make us stop and think for a while. For instance, when commenting on what some might call the intemperate language toward enemies found in some of the psalms, Lewis notes that it is probably because the Jews took right and wrong more seriously than others.
He did see, however, a danger in having this heightened sense of right and wrong, if someone were to let that go out of control. Here’s how he put it:
Ir seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger.” The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety.
Now, there is nothing wrong with having one’s soul filled with God’s Cause, but Lewis offers a warning, even to those of us who are striving to ensure God’s ways are the standard in our society. He goes on:
But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it.
I don’t believe I would ever be tempted to kill for what God has put in my soul—that would be at odds with the love of God in my heart—but it is a temptation to strike out verbally against those whom I see destroying what God wants to do.
Lewis continues with another example from his own profession:
One sees the same principle at work in a field (comparatively) so unimportant as literary criticism; the most brutal work, the most rankling hatred of all other critics and of nearly all authors, may come from the most honest and disinterested critic, the man who cares most passionately and selflessly about literature.
Write a book sometime, and you will know what Lewis means. He concludes with this:
The higher the stakes, the greater the temptation to lose your temper over the game. We must not over-value the relative harmlessness of the little, sensual, frivolous people. They are not above, but below, some temptations.
Another application. I speak and write on political and governmental issues, and I share my views with vigor. There is always the temptation, as one deeply involved with the study of history and government, to lash out at those who have no idea what is going on and who, I believe, are leading us down a path to destruction.
I may be absolutely correct in my analysis (as indeed I think I am), but there is the temptation at all times to go beyond a proper critique and to lose the spirit of the Lord in my communications. I’m constantly drawn back to how God wants me to communicate His truths.
I appreciate Lewis’s insight here, and his caution. May we all take his words to heart.