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We Cannot Hide What Makes Us Happy

In recent years, I have had the opportunity to experience the wide world of vintage toys. One experience in particular stands out in my memory. I drove to someone’s house to look at some vintage Transformers he had for sale. As I talked with him, I discovered that we grew up in the same era. We had a similar background in that our childhood toys followed the same trajectory: from He-Man, to G.I. Joe, to Transformers.

Suddenly, he said, “I will be right back. I have to show you something.” He left me in his garage with his kids as he ran into the house and down in the basement. He came back proudly holding a vintage G.I. Joe Combat Jet SkyStriker in the original box. He had to show me the excellent condition of the box. He had to show me how well the landing gear still worked. He had to show me that all the missiles and weapons were still there. He demonstrated how well the landing gear worked and the pristine condition of the guy with the parachute.

Now, I have to admit that I was not a passive spectator. I may have geeked out a little as well, because it brought back a flood of memories for me. I said, “Whoa, I remember that guy with the parachute! I can even remember getting this for Christmas and opening the box and putting all the stickers and missiles on the jet. Then I immediately used this jet to take down the evil Cobra Rattler Plane. This is so cool!” Then he exclaimed in response, “Yes, isn’t it great?”

Isn’t it great? That phrase triggered another memory in my mind that made me realize what was happening in that moment. I realized C.S. Lewis was right.

World Rings with Praise

Lewis wrote a short essay titled “A Word About Praising” in his book Reflections on the Psalms that highlights a problem he felt as he read the Psalms before he was a believer. It troubled him that God was always calling for praise. It sounded to him like a vain woman always demanding compliments.

But then something struck him that changed his entire perspective. He began to realize that the whole world “rings with praise.”

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, 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, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. . . . 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. (109–110)

“We are healthiest spiritually when we supremely value the supremely valuable.”

The climactic line from the vintage-toy owner (“Isn’t it great?”) reminded me of the phrases Lewis identified as the language of praise: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The dynamic of praise was on display once again, exactly like Lewis had described it: “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.” Our enjoyment of the toy led to a call for praise. So we can officially add to Lewis’s list “praise of rare toys” alongside “rare stamps and rare beetles.”

Language of Hedonism

Lewis observed that the language of hedonism is everywhere in the Psalms. It is common for the psalmist to enjoy some aspect of God and have it lead not only to personal praise, but a call for corporate praise. Out of the hundreds of examples, I will limit myself to four passages that illustrate the dynamic Lewis describes.

Psalm 5:11

Let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
     let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
     that those who love your name may exult in you.

Note the connection between enjoyment and praise. Those who rejoice and sing for joy are those who first enjoy God as refuge when he spreads his protection over them. Those who exult in God are those who love God’s name.

Psalm 9:1–2, 11

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
     I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
     I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. . . .
Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
     Tell among the peoples his deeds!

Psalm 9 testifies once again to the connection between enjoyment (“be glad,” “exult”) and praise (“give thanks,” “sing praise”). The enjoyment and the praise flow from a specific recounting of God’s deeds. But note that these deeds are so enjoyable that they are called “wonderful” (v. 1). If someone can recount the landing gear, parachute, and cardboard box of a vintage toy, then each of God’s wonderful deeds can be recounted and enjoyed as well! Later, the psalmist calls others to sing praises to God and extend the telling of his deeds to all the peoples (v. 11).

Psalm 96:1–4

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
     sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
     tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
     his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
     he is to be feared above all gods.

Psalm 96 gives voice once again to the expansive language of praise as the call to sing extends to “all the earth” (v. 1). This praise arises from the enjoyment of God’s salvation (v. 2), glory (v. 3), and marvelous works (v. 3). The praise and the enjoyment are grounded in God’s unsurpassed, unparalleled greatness. Because he is great, he is greatly to be praised (v. 4).

Psalm 148:1–6, 13

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
     praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
     praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
     praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
     and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord!
     For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
     he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. . . .
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
     for his name alone is exalted;
     his majesty is above earth and heaven.

“Praising God is the surest sign that we are enjoying God as we should.”

Psalm 148 is an example of one of the most striking features of the Psalms. The psalmist is not content to call only people to praise. All creation must join the symphony of praise because God’s greatness is so great and God’s name and majesty are so elevated and exalted over earth and heaven (v. 13). The psalmist calls heavenly beings (v. 2), the physical creation (vv. 3–4, 7–10), and all humanity (vv. 11–12) to answer this call to praise their Creator.

Holy, Happy, Healthy

This key biblical observation about the call to enjoy God and praise God reminds us that rejoicing in God is not optional; it is essential. It is essential as the chief end of our existence. We were created to glorify God by enjoying him forever. But what Christians often miss is the relationship between divine worship and spiritual health. God’s commands to praise are an expression of love, not the expression of an egomaniac. Praise is good, and it is good for us.

It would be spiritual suicide if we began to praise lesser things more than the One who is supreme over all. We are healthiest spiritually when we supremely value the supremely valuable. If the world rings with praise of lesser things, then we would be spiritually sick if we lacked praise for the One who is truly great and glorious and magnificent. It is not wrong to look nostalgically at a toy valued at $150 and say, “Isn’t it great?” But it is wrong in the extreme if someone can look at the supremely valuable God with a blank expression.

Praising God is the surest sign that we are enjoying God as we should. If we rejoice in him and drink deeply of his rivers of delights, we can’t help but praise him. The Bible does not absurdly deny us the chance to do with God what we do with all things we value: praise. The difference is that only God can offer the greatest enjoyment and thus spontaneously call for the highest praise.