While diving into a study of worship from the book of Psalms, I have revisited Lewis’ book, Reflections on the Psalms. Though I may not agree with some of the thoughts that Lewis suggests throughout the book, much of it is highly valuable. Having just preached Psalm 1, I consider these words of Lewis worth sharing and reading, which discuss delighting in God’s law and even briefly about the Law’s beauty within the modern age of flexible morality.
They know that the Lord (not merely obedience to the Lord) is “righteousness” because He loves it (11,8). He enjoins what is good because it is good, because He is good. Hence His laws have emeth “truth”, intrinsic validity, rock-bottom reality, being rooted in His own nature, and are therefore as solid as that Nature which He has created. But the Psalmists themselves can say it best; “thy righteousness stunted like the strong mountains, thy judgements are like the great deep” (36,6). Their delight in the Law is a delight in having touched firmness; like the pedestrian’s delight in feeling the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut has long entangled him in muddy fields.
For there were other roads, which lacked “truth”. The Jews had as their immediate neighbors, close to them in race as well as in position, Pagans of the worst kind, Pagans whose religion was marked by none of that beauty or (sometimes) wisdom which we can find among the Greeks. That background made the “beauty” or “sweetness” of the Law more visible; not least because these neightbouring Paganisms were a constant temptation to the Jew and may in some of their externals have been not unlike his own religion. The temptation was to turn to those terrible rites in times of terror– when, for example, the Assyrians were pressing on. We who not so long ago waited daily for invasion by enemies, like the Assyrians, skilled and constant in systematic cruelty, know how they may have felt. They were tempted, since the Lord seemed deaf, to try those appalling deities who demanded so much more and might therefore perhaps give more in return. But when a Jew in some happier hour, or a better Jew even in that hour, looked at those worships– when he thought of sacred prostitution, sacred sodomy, and the babies thrown into the fire for Moloch– his own “Law” as he turned back to it must have shone with an extraordinary radiance. Sweeter than honey; or if that metaphor does not suit us who have not such a sweet tooth as all ancient peoples (partly because we have plenty of sugar), let us say like mountain water, like fresh air after a dungeon, like sanity after a nightmare…
In so far as this idea of the Law’s beauty, sweetness, or preciousness, arose from the contrast of the surrounding Paganisms, we may soon find occasion to recover it. Christians increasingly live on a spiritual island; new and rival ways of life surround it in all directions and their tides come further up the beach every time. None of these new ways is yet so filthy or cruel as some Semitic Paganism. But many of them ignore all individual rights and are already cruel enough. Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility. Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and “sweet reasonableness” of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted. But of course, if we do, we shall then be exposed to the danger of priggery. We might come to “thank God that we are not as other men”.