Is God for Us or for Himself?
- Monday, May 05, 2008
Here is the answer of which I want to persuade you. Since God is unique as the most glorious of all beings and totally self-sufficient, he must be for himself if he is to be for us. If he were to abandon the goal of his own self-exaltation we would be the losers. His aim to bring praise to himself, and his aim to bring pleasure to his people, are one aim. They stand or fall together. I think we will see this if we ask the following question.
In view of God's infinitely admirable beauty, power and wisdom, what would his love to a creature involve? Or to put it another way: what could God give us to enjoy that would show him most loving? There is only one possible answer, isn't there? HIMSELF! If God would give us that which is best and most satisfying, that is, if he would love us perfectly, he must offer us no less than himself for our contemplation and fellowship and joy. "In thy presence is fullness of joy. In thy right hand are pleasures for evermore." (Ps. 16:11)
This was precisely God's intention in sending his son. Ephesians 2:18 says that Christ came that we might "have access in one Spirit to the Father." And 1 Peter 3:18 says, "Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God." God is after us to give us what is best – not prestige, wealth or even health in this life, but a full-blown vision of, and fellowship with, himself.
Now we are on the brink of what, for me, was a grand discovery, and is the solution to our problem. To be supremely loving, God must give us what will be best for us and delight us most; he must give us himself. But what do we do when we are given or shown something excellent, something we enjoy? We praise it. We praise new little babies that manage not to be all bent out of shape in birth; "O, look at that nice round head; and all that hair; and his hands, aren't they big!" We praise a lover's face after a long absence. "Your eyes are like the sky; your hair is like silk; 0, you are beautiful to me." We praise a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth when we are down by three runs. We praise the trees in the fall.
But the great discovery I made, with the help of C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards, was not only that we praise what we enjoy, but that this praise is the climax of the joy itself. It is not tacked on later; it is part of the pleasure. Listen to the way Lewis describes this insight from his book on the Psalms.
But the 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 their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars ... 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. (Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 93-95)
There's the key: we praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise. If we were not allowed to speak of what we value and celebrate, what we love and praise, what we admire, our joy would not be full. Jonathan Edwards said, "Joy is a great ingredient in praise ... Praise is the most joyful work in the world." Therefore, if God is truly for us, if he would give us the best and make our joy full, he must make it his aim to win our praise for himself. Not because he needs to shore up some weakness in himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because he loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can only be found in knowing and praising him, the most beautiful of all Beings.
God is the one Being in the entire universe for whom self-centeredness, or the pursuit of his own glory, is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things "for the praise of his glory," he preserves for us and offers to us, the only thing in the entire world, which can satisfy our longings. God is for us, and therefore has been, is now and always will be, first, for himself. I urge you not to resent the centrality of God in his own affections, but to experience it as the fountain of your everlasting joy.
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