C.S. Lewis on Praising a Self-Centered God

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When I first began to draw near to belief in God and ever for some time after it had been given to me, I found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should “praise” God; still more in the suggestions that God Himself demanded it. We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness…Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind…It was hideously like saying, “What I most want is to be told that I am good and great”…Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him, I thought I could understand; not this perpetual eulogy. Nor were matters mended by a modern author who talked of God’s “right” to be praised.

I believe I now see what that author meant…What do we mean when we say that a picture is “admirable”? We certainly don’t mean that it is admired, for bad work is admired by thousands and good work may be ignored. Nor that it “deserves” admiration in the sense in which a candidate “deserves” a high mark from the examiners — i.e. that a human being will have suffered injustice if it is not awarded. The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is rather this; that admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate, response to it, that if paid, admiration will not be “thrown away”, and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something.

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.

C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Harcourt, 1958), pages 90–92.

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