Wednesday, November 07, 2007

C.S. Lewis on Indignation

Of late, my personal reading has been blessed by revisiting the wisdom of C.S. Lewis. Better known in our modern era for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis was a scholar's scholar with penetrating insight and wisdom on the Word.

In his Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis's chapter on the imprecatory (cursing) Psalms, such as Psalm 109, was especially interesting. Lewis dares to take on the difficulty of godly men, such as King David, wishing ill, even cursing, upon his enemies.

"The absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation, can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one. Even when that indignation passes into bitter personal vindictiveness, it may still be a good symptom, though bad in itself. It is a sin; but it at least shows that those who commit it have not sunk below the level at which the temptation to that sin exists -- just as the sins (often quite appalling) of the great patriot or great reformer points to something in him above mere self. If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. For if we look at their railings we find they are unusually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well as to the victim...This is something different from mere anger without indignation -- the almost animal rage at finding that a man's enemy has done to him exactly what he would have done to his enemy if he had been strong enough or quick enough.

Different, certainly higher, a better symptom; yet also leading to a more terrible sin. For it encourages a man to think that his own passions are holy. It encourages him to add, explicitly or implicitly, 'Thus saith the Lord' to the expression of his own emotion or even his own opinions...The Jews sinned in this matter worse than the Pagans not because they were further from God but because they were nearer to God. For the Supernatural, entering a human soul, opens to it new possibilities, both of good and evil. From the point the road branches: one way to sanctity, love, humility, the other to spiritual pride, self-righteousness, persecuting zeal...If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse. Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst. Of all created beings the wickedest is one who originally stood in the immediate presence of God. There seems no way out of this. It gives new application to our Lord's words about 'counting the cost'" (146-7).