C.S. Lewis on Praising God

WS-50497_WP

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.” ~Psalm 103

In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis writes that during his journey towards the Christian faith, and even for some time after he arrived, he “found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should ‘praise’ God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.”[1] He writes that the obligation we had to honor God – to attend church where His praises are sung and do our best to join in – seemed to border on ludicrous for a God who also tells us that He needs nothing. From a human perspective, this made God seem petty to Lewis. Why did He demand this perpetual compliment, approval, and honor?

After years of reflecting on the Psalms, Lewis came to several conclusions about this demand for praise:

  1. “I did not see that it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”[2] He notes that even in the Old Testament system of sacrifices, it was not that men gave anything to God (who needed nothing), but that through their sacrifices and obedience, God gave Himself to them. [3]

And,

  1. Lewis was overlooking a simple phenomenon that we can observe in our daily lives. Namely, that there is an obvious connection between our enjoyment of something and the praise that naturally springs out of that enjoyment. Lewis had been thinking only in terms of compliment, approval, and honor, forgetting that the largest aspect of praise involves enjoyment! Indeed, it’s hard to separate one’s praise of an object from one’s enjoyment of it. Praising is part and parcel of pure enjoyment.

He writes, “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 … 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. The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read. The healthy and unaffected man, even if luxuriously brought up and widely experienced in good cookery, could praise a very modest meal: the dyspeptic and the snob found fault with all.”[4]

He continues that “except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”[5]

Lewis writes that the healthier our inner person is, the more we delight to praise what we value – indeed, we can hardly restrain ourselves, even at the risk of boring others (or annoying those cranks that find any kind of praise difficult endure).

It is true that often the praise is rather clumsy or stunted from a lack of skill on the part of the one praising. We’ve all been subjected to bad poems, bad hymns, etc. We’ve all been guilty of having our desire to praise outrun our own ability to communicate. Still, we cannot help ourselves, so we risk being ridiculed for the sake of the thing we love. This brings to mind King David’s dance of joy before the Ark.

Lewis concludes that “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.”[6]

He writes that praising completes our enjoyment. This is a profound insight for why we are to praise God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Author of our salvation, and love Himself. In praising Him, we are drawing near and enjoying Him!

In fact, it’s interesting to note that every time we praise and enjoy something good in the cosmos, we are indirectly praising and enjoying Him, as He is the ultimate source of all that is good.

“Who satisfies your years with good things,
            So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.” (Psalm 103)

One might even go so far as to say that we cannot really praise anything good in this world without praising God in some way, whether we mean to or not.  For, if He does not exist, there really is no objective standard by which to measure the thing that brings forth our praise – it’s all just a matter of subjective opinion. Our enjoyment of everything is ultimately meaningless without God.

We cannot enjoy thoroughly even a pas-de-quatre at a subscription dance unless we believe that the stars are dancing to the same tune …Ultimately a man can enjoy nothing except religion. ~G.K. Chesterton, “Heretics” 

Lewis continues:

“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; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with (the perfect hearer died a year ago). 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 per cent 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— drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds. 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.”[7]

Praising God is the same as enjoying Him, and as we enjoy Him, we draw near to Him.

Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. ~G.K. Chesterton 

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34)

 

[1] Lewis, C. S.. Reflections on the Psalms (p. 108). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. (p. 109-112).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.