The Answer to God's Seeming Megalomania1
I recently returned to reading John Piper’s book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, and was stunned yet again by a truth that has utterly transformed my life. That’s not an overstatement. I can’t think of another theological principle that has meant more to me than what you are about to read. I have often in my books tried to say the same thing, but it always seems to fall short of how John has expressed it.
John begins by citing C. S. Lewis and his description of how he struggled with the incessant demand by God that all creation praise him. Lewis confessed that God sounded like “a vain woman who wants compliments.” Then came the discovery that changed Lewis’s life too:
“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. . . . 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 [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958], 93–95).
John then follows by teasing out this truth in a remarkable way. He writes:
“In other words, genuine, heartfelt praise is not artificially added to joy. It is the consummation of joy itself. The joy we have in something beautiful or precious is not complete until it is expressed in some kind of praise.
Lewis saw the implication of this for God’s seemingly vain command that we worship him. Now he saw that this was not vanity or megalomania. This was love. This was God seeking the consummation of our joy in what is supremely enjoyable—himself.
If God demeaned his supreme worth in the name of humility, we would be the losers, not God. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue. For there is only one supremely beautiful being in the universe. There is only one all-satisfying person in the universe. And because of his supreme beauty and greatness, what the psalmist says in Psalm 16:11 is true: ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ If God hides that, or denies that, he might seem humble, but he would be hiding from us the very thing that would make us completely happy forever.
But if God loves us the way the Bible says he does, then he will give us what is best for us. And what is best for us is himself. So if God loves us fully, God will give us God, for our enjoyment and nothing less. But if our enjoyment is not complete until it comes to completion in praise, then God would not be loving if he was indifferent to our praise. If he didn’t pursue our praise in all that he does (as we have seen!), he would not be pursuing the fullness of our satisfaction. He would not be loving.
So what emerges is that God’s pervasive self-exaltation in the Bible— his doing everything to display his glory and to win our worship—is not unloving; it is the way an infinitely all-glorious God loves. His greatest gift of love is to give us a share in the very satisfaction that he has in his own excellence, and then to call that satisfaction to its fullest consummation in praise. This is why I maintain that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word” (Reading the Bible Supernaturally [Wheaton: Crossway, 2017], 58-59).