Have you ever had the same stumbling block as Lewis? He says that when he first came to faith, he felt that all this talk about praising God seemed like only going through the motions if God was all-powerful. If he really is all-powerful, then why the demand? Lewis calls it, “ludicrous and horrible” in Reflections on the Psalms. “Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him, I thought I could understand,” he says,” [but] not this perpetual eulogy.”
Maybe praising God is like a picture that someone admires, says Lewis. When it is noticed, the picture receives the person’s admiration, but if the next person doesn’t stop then something is altogether missed for that person. It doesn’t change the fact of the painting’s worthiness of admiration. Rather, it’s about the person noticing, respecting, being changed by the experience of seeing. For the Christian, the painting represents God and our praise is mandatory.
“God does not only ‘demand’ praise as the supremely beautiful and all-satisfying Object,” Lewis says. “He does apparently command it as lawgiver.” But, in the command is a sensitivity about our need. There is nothing insufficient in God that he needs our worship. Rather, he wants it; he wants us. The command is an invitation. Lewis points out that the world verberates with every kind of praise, “lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite 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.” He argues that praise is actually the “inner health [of a person] made audible.” It’s safe to say that without praising something or someone, we become less human.
Perhaps this is what it means when we talk about the importance of where we place our affections. “I think,” says Lewis, “we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.” Lewis continues: “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.”
Lewis puts it in yet another way. Tracing back to the idea of praise as a command, it means that part of our duty as Christians becomes praising God. That seems authoritative, especially since it’s unnecessary, but Lewis doesn’t see it that way. He says that praising God is like tuning us for something more. “The duty exists for the delight,” Lewis says. “When we carry out our ‘religious duties’ we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last the water comes, it may find them ready. I mean, for the most part. There are happy moments, even now, when a trickle creeps along the dry beds; and happy souls to whom this happens often.”
“There is a Pagan, savage heart in me somewhere,” he says. “For unfortunately the folly and idiot-cunning of Paganism seem to have far more power of surviving than its innocent or even beautiful elements. It is easy, once you have power, to silence the pipes, still the dances, disfigure the statues, and forget the stories; but not easy to kill the savage, the greedy, frightened creature now cringing, now blustering, in one’s soul—the creature to whom God may well say, ‘thou thoughtest I am even such a one as thyself'” (Ps. 50, 21).