Originally, I was looking for a good commentary on the Psalms but came across this book and decided to start with C.S. Lewis because he and I speak the same language. It isn’t a commentary, as he makes explicitly clear at the beginning of the book, it is a series of essays based on various Psalms and major themes he selects. If Lewis were alive today this would have been a series of blog posts.
I highlighted so many passages and wrote so many exclamations in the margins of this book, I couldn’t even begin to list them. This is my usual experience with C.S. Lewis. But the themes that impacted me the most were Chapter 2 “‘Judgment’ in the Psalms” and Chapters 5 and 9 together “The Fair Beauty of the Lord,” and “A Word About Praising.”
“‘Judgment’ in the Psalms” helped me think better about the entire Old Testament because Lewis makes the point that when Christians imagine judgment, it is usually with ourselves in the defendant seat and God as the judge ready to condemn. But more often the Jewish picture was with themselves in the plaintiff seat and God as the judge ready to reward. He says:
The “just” judge, then, is primarily he who rights a wrong in a civil case. He would, no doubt, also try a criminal case justly, but that is hardly ever what the Psalmists are thinking of. Christians cry to God for mercy instead of justice; they cried to God for justice instead of injustice. (p. 12)
It’s completely obvious and astonishingly eye-opening to me at the same time. Of course God is both a criminal and a civil judge! And of course he would judge both types of cases justly. In a civil case where I have been wronged, I would see justice in God righting it. In a civil case where I’ve wronged another, I would see justice in God righting them. Lewis helped me back up from my narrow view of God as only criminal judge to see God as a just judge in every sense of the word. And that’s something to be happy about!
Chapters 5 and 9 impacted me because I think they catch the very essence of the Psalms, and of the point of human existence. In “The Fair Beauty of the Lord” Lewis speaks of Psalms that are simply gushing with pleasure over God’s law, God’s presence, and God’s temple. He says this:
I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh to some—called this the “appetite for God” than “the love of God”. The “love of God” too easily suggests the word “spiritual” in all those negative or restrictive senses, which it has unhappily acquired. These old poets do not seem to think that they are meritorious or pious for having such feelings; nor on the other hand, that they are privileged in being given the grace to have them…It has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even physical desire. (p.51).
Their desire for God is not out of piety, duty, or coercion. There is such a thing as “desire for God” that has nothing to do with religious obligation. Ah, what a blessed relief to know what “appetite” he is talking about!
He more explicitly states in Chapter 9 what he is implying in Chapter 5—that to glorify God IS to enjoy Him. To delight in Him IS to glorify him. In my head I was hearing John Piper’s voice and watching his wild hand motions as I read:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. (p. 95)
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. (p. 97)
This is so exquisitely freeing! If you want to know more, just go to Desiring God and look up “Christian Hedonism.”
If I had one negative critique for this book it would be C.S. Lewis’ seemingly low view of scripture. While he makes clear in places that he believes the Bible to be an inspired narrative and strongly influenced by God, he tends to cherry-pick what he thinks is edifying, true, and morally upright and what isn’t. I disagreed with this quote from Chapter 11:
The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. (p. 112)
I hold that every word of the LORD proves true (Proverbs 30:5) and all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).
Overall this was a fantastic read and I would recommend it. Just be sure to read it as it is intended to be read—as a collection of essay/blog post/reflections and not as a commentary.