Monday, November 28, 2005


I have just begun reading Reflections on the Psalms, by C.S. Lewis. In a chapter on the cursing psalms, I ran across the following passage:

“It seemed to me that, seeing in them hatred undisguised, I saw also the natural result of injuring a human being. . . . Just as the natural result of throwing a lighted match into a pile of shavings is to produce a fire—though damp or the intervention of some more sensible person may prevent it—so the natural result of cheating a man, or “keeping him down” or neglecting him, is to arouse resentment; that is, to impose upon him the temptation of becoming what the Psalmists were when they wrote the vindictive passages.  He may succeed in resisting the temptation; or he may not. If he fails, if he dies spiritually because of his hatred for me, how do I, who provoked that hatred, stand? For in addition to the original injury I have done him a far worse one. I have introduced into his inner life, at best a new temptation, at worst a besetting sin. If that sin utterly corrupts him, I have in a sense debauched or seduced him. I was the tempter.”

My first thoughts were about how this is acted out on the world stage.  We are quick to condemn violent protest—we emphasize free will, and by golly, no one has to shoot a gun, throw a bomb, burn down the neighborhood, and so on.  To counter with talk about environment or policies that create a repressive environment will get you labeled a terrorist-loving antipatriotic bleeding heart liberal.  I like the way Lewis puts it. “If he dies spiritually because of his hatred for me, how do I, who provoked that hatred, stand?”  

And then it is played out in human relationships every day, between husbands and wives, parents and children, coworkers, neighbors.


  1. Oh, Bad Alice, this makes me want to run out and get the book. What an amazing snippet. One of my earliest religious experiences was when I inadvertently hit a bird with my car that I was busy watching. I realize immediately that my own sense of 'otherness' was, in fact, damaging. I had to be a full participant. Which might mean that I have to own the sins of others, if I lead them to it somehow. It is a big responsibility, isn't it? And reminds me, too, what I can't stand about the New Age stuff, wherein we draw everything to ourselves: good, bad and indifferent. It feels profoundly 'self' centered and absolves us, at least in the abstraction, from our own responsibility towards others. (They invited their rage into their lives, didn't they?)

    What a wonderful, thought provoking post. Thanks!

  2. "I have introduced into his inner life, at best a new temptation, at worst a besetting sin"...much to ponder. Thanks. (OK, sure, Lewis said it first but you reminded me so, there. Thanks).

  3. Hey, I just found your blog! And you already knew mine--I am so honored. I am pretty ecletic; I'm on the spiritual journey, so I am glad to meet you. And I'm linking you to my page.

  4. This indeed is a thought provoking post. Thank you for your thoughts, for daring to go deeper.

    You inspire me :)

    and yeah I'd like to read the book too. Ouch!

  5. Come on I get some credit for buying the book for her. I am so happy you are enjoying his book. I have read most of C.S. Lewis writings. But, I haven't seen this one before. I will read it after you.

  6. You don't own the sin of others. It is the tempting that is wrong in and of itself.