WONDERFUL THINGS: The vanity of God: Does He need my praise?
Is God vain because He demands our praise? Before C.S. Lewis came to know Jesus personally, he felt that the Bible’s command to praise God was akin to an old woman seeking compliments for herself. Actor Brad Pitt was raised in a Christian home, but left all that behind. He said, “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, 'You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!' It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”
Like Pitt or Lewis most of us are not drawn to people who are constantly telling us about how strong or smart or fast or beautiful or cool they are — fishing for compliments. We sense that there is something wrong — something missing — from a person who consistently needs the praise of others in order to be happy.
Yet God throughout the Bible commands us to give Him praise and honor. He commands us to worship Him: “You who fear the Lord, praise him” (Psalm 22:23);“Clap your hands all you people . . . Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King!” (Psalm 47:1, 6).
How can this be? Why does the living God want and command our adulation and applause? Is God in some way needy or deficient?
The answer from the Bible is a resounding “no!” “God is not served by human hands as if he needed anything. For he, himself, gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). God has no needs or defects; everything that exists comes from Him. So then why does the infinitely perfect and sovereign God of this universe command the worship of His people? The best answer that I have ever found was explained by the aforementioned C.S. Lewis, after he came to Christ, in his little book, Reflections on the Psalms:
But the most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or any thing, 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 ... The world rings with praise-lovers praising their mistresses ... players praising their favorite game-praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors ... 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.
I am from East Tennessee and enjoy hiking in the Smokey Mountains. Let’s suppose that you and a friend are hiking, slogging upward through thick woods, and suddenly you break out of some dense underbrush and behold a glorious view, a wide, open vista of the Smokies — huge mountains aglow in gentle sunlight and clothed in mist and as far as the eye can see. You see this and what do you do? You go, “Whoa! This is so beautiful!”
Do you know what this is? It is praise. “We delight to praise what we enjoy, because praise not merely expresses but completes our enjoyment.” And then when you catch your breath, what would you want to do next? You would call to your friend, “Come and look, come and see this!” You want to share it with someone else. It is something not meant to be enjoyed alone; in fact you want others to join you in praise and wonder to make your joy full.
Do you see what this means for us that God commands our praise? It is not because He is deficient, but because He wants us be filled with the joy of seeing His beauty, splendor, and glory. On this earth, we see this best in His Son, Jesus Christ. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). The gospel is the good news of “the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” We were made, all of us, to find ultimate happiness — not in our possessions, or pursuits, or prowess, or popularity, but in the joy that comes from knowing, loving and giving praise to the God who made us.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at email@example.com.