Reflections on the Psalms - Judgment in the Psalms

I’ve recently begun reading Reflections on the Psalms. I’d intended to read through it before posting anything of substance, but I thought this was worthy of mention–I’m reading through the first substantive chapter, that on judgment in the Psalms, and was struck by something that could have been prophetic:

Did we pretend to be ‘hurt’ in our sensitive and tender feelings (fine natures like ours are so vulnerable) when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real trouble? Such tactics often succeed. The other parties give in. . . . And so we win; by cheating.

Solomon was right to say “there is nothing new under the sun”, but I doubt Lewis anticipated the degree to which faux offense would be weaponized today.

Actually, that was a passage that rubbed me the wrong way. Granted, “faux offense” can be misused, and doubtless people sometimes weaponize “hurt feelings” to manipulate family and friends. But my first reaction was that this passage could be seen to endorse the facile, false proverb, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Verbal attacks can cut more deeply and leave more lasting wounds than physical ones.

BTW, on a different topic, today is a great day in the Bible-studies-publishing world: N. T. Wright’s monumental THE NEW TESTAMENT IN ITS WORLD is being released. Although the description suggests that it duplicates a lot of material from his “Christian Origins” series, I willingly paid a LOT more than I’d normally spend on a book to get the new material.

Margaret Carter

I can understand how it might be seen this way, but I think it’s pretty clear this wasn’t what Lewis had in mind. To quote more fully:

But there is also the question on a far lower level: ‘granted the quarrel (we’ll go into that later) did you fight fair?’ Or did we not quite unknowingly falsify the whole issue? Did we pretend to be angry about one thing when we knew, or could have known, that our anger had a different and much less presentable cause? . . . They give in not because they don’t know what is really wrong with us but because they have long known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused, that skeleton brought out of its cupboard, only at the cost of imperilling their whole relationship with us.
(emphasis added)

Lewis isn’t here diminishing the harm that words can cause (though IMO that is greatly exaggerated today), but instead is criticizing dishonest argument, argument that misstates the true objection. And such is epidemic today, with people claiming grave offense at the most insignificant slight, and expecting that their claimed sense of being offended is the end of the argument. And it’s the latter point that is particularly problematic–it’s one thing for you (hypothetical you, not you personally) to be offended; it’s quite another for you to expect that (1) I must share your offense, and (2) I must yield my position on account of your offense. IOW, your feeling of being offended trumps whatever truth or logic there is in my position, such that the truth can’t even be examined.

It’s obviously speculation on my part to say that people are by and large fabricating their offense, but the only alternative is that people have, on a large scale, become so fragile that the mere presence of a contrary opinion is major psychological trauma. The only difference I see between what Lewis wrote 60 years ago and what I’m seeing today is that he was writing about discussions in a private context, while what I’m seeing is playing out in the public sphere.

This is a scriptural meditation from the Russian book, “Day by Day”, which, I think, has some bearing on this discussion:

Scripture: “Love endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13,7)


“I am amazed
by one thing in the words of St. Paul: in his song of praise he praises that
which love refrains from. He begins with the words: ‘Love is patient’, and ends
with ‘love endures through every circumstance’. Basically, this is the same
thing. But it would seem to us more natural to speak about what love can
accomplish, and not about what it can endure. Why not praise its great achievements,
the obstacles its surmounts, the miracles that it performs. But no, St. Paul
was right. The greatness of an accomplishment is manifest in the dark,
unnoticed and laborious path it follows, and the laborious path of love is
patience. In a moment of enthusiasm, in a moment of inspiration, we are ready
for any sacrifice, but it is not in the heat of enthusiastic excitement that
the touchstone of love is to be found. True love proves its strength in
ordinary life, totally unnoticed; in hot, unseen tears, in a sacrifice made in
solitude, after a severe spiritual battle. Will your love hold up under small,
daily irritations? Will you hold up when you see yourself misunderstood and
unfairly accused? Will you hold up when you receive no answer, and meet only
silent antipathy? Will you hold up when you are utterly alone, spurned by
everyone? If your love does not die even then, then it is truly worthy of St.
Paul’s song of praise."


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

I resonate with this passage, Dan. You are right, that “feelings”
(sic) have become the arbiters of our dealings with each other;
replacing thought and fact. I belong to several groups on
Facebook, where this is rampant. It leads, if not to “backing down
in fear”, often to sharing insults instead of discussing a
question. It ends conversation often.

  And any relationship is wounded or ruined in any case. Lately it

has become a thing of generational insult.

  Words can and do hurt, sometimes traumatically; but the mental

fragility that is put on like a cloak, will also damage the psyche
and break relationships. And “dishonest argument” may well be at
the root of this. An inability to use critical thinking, and
logic, may result in falling back on “offence”.

Carolyn in OZ