Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

It’s been a while since I last wrote a review. When I finished Mere Christianity, I was still thrilled by C.S. Lewis’ depth of insight. Then I saw a copy of Lewis’ Reflection on the Psalms. Since this book is quoted by John Piper in Desiring God, I immediately grabbed it.

Unlike Mere Christianity, I find Reflections more challenging to understand. But as usual, one will still find the genius of Lewis in the book.

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll be discussing two topics that got my interest.

Death in the Psalms

First, death in the Psalms. It fascinated me that there is no concept of the afterlife in the Psalms. Lewis writes:

It seems quite clear that in most parts of the Old Testament there is little or no belief in a future life; certainly no belief that is of any religious importance. The word translated “soul” in our version of the Psalms means simply “life”; the word translated “hell” means simply “the land of the dead”, the state of all the dead, good and bad alike, Sheol.1

Lewis tries to understand this concern:

I am more concerned to try to understand the absence of such a belief, in the midst of intense religious feeling, over the earlier period. To some it may seem astonishing that God, having revealed so much of Himself to that people, should not have taught them this.2

But it does not astonish him:

It does not astonish me. For one thing there were nations close to the Jews whose religion was overwhelmingly concerned with the after life. In reading about ancient Egypt one gets the impression of a culture in which the main business of life was the attempt to secure the well-being of the dead. It looks as if God did not want the chosen people to follow that example. We may ask why. Is it possible for men to be too much concerned with their eternal destiny? In one sense, paradoxical though it sounds, I should reply, Yes.2

I agree. Men can be too concerned with their eternal destiny. But why is such belief absent? Lewis clarifies:

It is surely, therefore, very possible that when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that he and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely necessary that his revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude or Perdition. These are not the right point to begin at.3

He’s right. The afterlife is “not the right point to begin at.” As I understand Lewis, it is only when “men have learned to desire and adore God, to pant after Him ‘as pants the hart’,” only when men “will desire not only to enjoy [God] but ‘enjoy Him forever’,” that a right belief in the afterlife is possible.

A Word About Praising

The second topic I’m about to discuss is what Lewis found a stumbling block: The praise of God…and that He Himself demanded it. He writes:

We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence and delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, bot of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way—“Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.”4

I have to agree with Lewis. God seems to be an ego-maniac, like “a vain woman wanting compliments, or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him.”

But he later writes:

The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game.5

So enjoyment inevitably results into praise. It is spontaneous. Lewis adds:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation…The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.6

That’s it! Praise does not only expresses the joy; it completes it! And when God is “demanding” our praise, it is not to feed His ego. It is to make us fully happy in Him. He is after our joy therefore. He is a loving God!

Conclusion

I learned a lot from Reflections. However, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I find the book difficult to understand. This is perhaps because Lewis lived and wrote from a different era, or he is just deep. It’s hard to determine any theological errors. Considering this, I withhold recommending this book until another reading and further reviews are done.


1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Walker and Company, 1987), 37.
2C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 39.
3C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 40.
4C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 90.
5C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 94.
6C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 95-97.

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~ by Enzo Cortes on October 12, 2011.

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