Smoke on the Mountain

Joy Davidman
(C.S. Lewis’s late wife), an ex-atheist Jewish communist (if that makes any sense at all?), authored one of the most enlightening, paradigm shifting books I have ever read – Smoke on the Mountain (click to read), an expository, socio-cultural analysis of the Ten Commandments (or the Decalogue).  Prior to reading it, I admit that the Decalogue seemed a cold, didactical but necessary fence around my restless heart.  And it remained a distant set of restrictions until the light of Joy’s insight came flooding in.  Restrictions?  No.  Boundaries.  Where I may have been persuaded that the Commandments are a control-grasping fear-based behavioral code rooted in the myth of an ancient people, I now see them as an outpouring of compassionate wisdom from a Personal Mind.

Is it control-grasping for a parent to give their child a bed time?  To tell them they can’t have cake and ice cream for dinner?  That they can’t stay up all night playing video games?  That they must go to school in the morning?  That they can’t leave home whenever they want and go wherever they want?   That they mustn’t hit or talk back?  That they must share?  Are administered consequences for disobedience to these established rules (time outs, groundings, restrictions, spankings, etc) “fear mongering”? “Tyranny”?


On the other hand – did you know that “neglect” according to the American Humane Association, is the most prevalent form of child abuse in the United States?   But isn’t this what we want of God (if a personal One exists)?  For Him to leave us alone and let us do what we want?  To allow us, with indifference, to pursue our own happiness independent of His input…of His discipline?

As C.S. Lewis quipped in his book The Problem of Pain,

“What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like, “What does it matter so long as they are contented?” We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all”.

But when our idea of a good time is rooted in unrestrained carnal pleasure, there is sure to be collateral damage.

A child, limited in experience and wisdom, seeks desire fulfillment without regard to the total consequences reaped by mind, body and soul and thus has an antipathy toward rules: Small picture.  A good parent, experienced, integrated and wise, seeks their child’s joy with total consequence in view and thus sees the necessity of rules: Big picture.  Children think NOW.  Parents think ‘now’ in light of ‘then’.

And how are we, limited in experience and wisdom…mere drops of water in the ocean of human history…any different?

In her treatise on Commandment #7 of the Decalogue, “Do not commit adultery“, Joy exposes the agenda of the world…which I believe is central to the moral dilemma.

“It must be admitted that our society rather encourages the vices that lead to adultery. Consider the romantic lie, fostered by many magazines and films and radio programmes, that love in the erotic sense is the real meaning of life; that its presence guarantees an effortless and unending happiness; and that its absence means that your marriage is over. Consider the sexual confusion which permits a terrified prudery to rear many of our young people knowing no more of mating than that it is “not nice”-and which combines this ignorance with the constant erotic incitements of our advertising and entertainment. C. S. Lewis again : “We grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales resistance.”

In short, the world wants us to remain kids.  High on impulse, short on patience, worshipers of a purely material self – slaves to our bodies for pleasure’s sake.  It tells us “life is short”, “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”.  And anything standing in the way of this is enemy.

God, however, wants us to grow up.  To mature into self-controlled, patient partakers in the beautifully complex trinitarian community of our existence (first as individuals comprised of body, mind and soul, second as neighbors to our fellow man and third as tenants of His creation), obeying His command to love others as we love ourselves – as He first loved us – for His Kingdom’s sake.

And that “As He first loved us” part is HUGE.  Without first realizing we’re loved, we very well may project our terrible experiences with our imperfect guardians onto God and perceive our place in His “Kingdom” as fear-programmed moral machines.  As slaves submitting in dread to a cruel master, glaring at us from his lavish veranda, just waiting for us to buckle so he can beat us.  As employees scared to lose our jobs because we haven’t performed up to company standards.  As terrified children fearing an outburst from their absent alcoholic father with a belt in his hand. Or perhaps it’s softer than this, but just as cynical – the last thing we want to be is a fish on the end of a hook, a sucker ripped off by a scam artist, swindled by a salesman big on promises, empty-handed at delivery.  These things can certainly cause us to chuck it all together.  I almost did. But over time, His patience and goodness have eased my insecurity.  I’ve come to realize, if I’m assured by Jesus of anything at all, it’s that God is good.  From His parable of the Good Samaritan to His parable of the Prodigal Father and all the way to the cross and back…there is no one more worthy of what little trust I have to give.


Thrice’s Official Website