C. S. Lewis On Praising God

C. S. Lewis On Praising God October 7, 2014

It’s always a delight to run across a bit of C. S. Lewis that I’ve never read before. The other day, I picked up a copy of a magazine on the snack table at church which excerpted Lewis on God’s worthiness of our praise. The selection is taken from A Reflection On the Psalms. As usual, Lewis expresses so well so many things I would like to say, but couldn’t say as well as he could. He begins by confessing that as a new Christian, he wrestled with this idea that God demands our constant worship. This rubbed him the wrong way, as if God were the divine equivalent of Brian Regan’s “me monster.”  It’s  still a rhetorical tactic that atheists and free-thinkers try to bamboozle Christians with today. But as Lewis grew in the faith, he developed a better understanding of what, precisely, it means for us to praise God, and what precisely we are lacking when we do not.

To describe this in simple human terms, Lewis pinpoints the universal delight we take in praising things we enjoy—be it our favorite pastimes, our favorite art, or our beloved family and friends. This rings very true for me, especially the part about how we feel our praise is incomplete unless we can find someone to share it with, some audience who can appreciate the thing we love as much as we do. Lewis then takes this instinctive human desire and brings it back to the One who is ultimately worthy of our eternal praise:

…[T]he most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me.  I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor.  I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it.  The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers praising their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.  I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least…Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.  Nor does it cease to be so when, through lack of skill, the forms of its expression are very uncouth or even ridiculous.  Heaven knows, many poems of praise addressed to an earthly beloved are as bad as our bad hymns…

I had not noticed, either, that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely?  Wasn’t it glorious?  Don’t you think that magnificent?”  The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.  My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.  It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.  It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch… This is so even when our expressions are inadequate, as, of course, they usually are.  But how if one could really and fully praise even such things to perfection — utterly “get out” in poetry, or music, or paint the upsurge of appreciation which almost bursts you?  Then indeed the object would be fully appreciated and our delight would have attained perfect development.  The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be.  If it were possible for a created soul fully (I mean, up to the full measure conceivable in a finite being) to “appreciate,” that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude.
It is along these lines that I find it easiest to understand the Christian doctrine that “Heaven” is a state in which angels now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God.  This does not mean, as it can so dismally suggest, that it is like “being in Church.”  For our “services,” both in their conduct and in our power to participate, are merely attempts at worship; never fully successful, often 99.9 percent failures; sometimes total failures. We are not riders but pupils in the riding school; for most of us the falls and bruises, the aching muscles, and the severity of the exercise, far outweigh those few moments in which we were, to our own astonishment, actually galloping without terror and without disaster.
To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God… The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify.  In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

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