If God is God-Centered, How Can He Be Loving?
Here’s the key question that I want to close with, because I know that it starts to rise here. I’ve said this truth, that God is a God-centered God and that his God-centeredness is the root of my God-centeredness. I’ve said that for twenty years to people, and the question begins to rise: “This does not sound loving, because the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, ‘Love seeks not its own.’ And you’re telling us now, for the last fifteen minutes, that God spends all of his time seeking his own. So either God is not loving or you’re a liar.” And that’s a big problem. So let me try to answer how it is that God is loving in seeking his own self-exaltation.
Help from C.S. Lewis
I found the key in C.S. Lewis. If any of you have read Desiring God then you remember this quote. Lewis was a pagan till his late-20s and he hated God’s vanity. He said that every time he read the words in the Psalms, “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord”–and he knew Christian doctrine, that the Psalms were inspired–he knew that is was really God saying, “Praise me, Praise me” and it sounded like and old woman seeking compliments.That’s a quote from Reflections on the Psalms. And then suddenly God came into C.S. Lewis’ life. And this is what he wrote:
The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows in praise, unless sometimes we bring shyness in to check it. The world rings with praise: lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games, 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 with the praise of God depended on my obsurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely valuable, what we delight to do–even what we cannot help doing–with regard to everything else we value.
And then here comes the key sentences:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the joy is not complete until it is expressed. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.
Now, that was a key for me that unlocked something with regard to how God can be loving and self-exalting in all that he does. It goes like this. Let me put the pieces together for you.
The Answer to the Question
If God is to love you, what must he give you? He must give you what is best for you. The best thing in all the universe is God. If he were to give you all health, best job, best spouse, best computer, best vacations, best success in any realm, and yet withhold himself, then he would hate you. And if he gives you God and nothing besides, he loves you infinitely.
I must have God for my enjoyment if God is to be loving to me. Now Lewis has said that if God gives you himself to enjoy for all eternity, that joy will not come to consummation until you express it in praise. Therefore, for God to love you fully he cannot be indifferent to whether you bring your joy to consummation through praise or not. Therefore God must seek your praise if you are to be loved by him. Did that make sense? I wonder if I should run that by you again. That’s the essence of my life. I believe it’s the essence of the Bible.
To love you he must give you what is best for you. God is what is best for you. “Thou hast shown me the path of life. In thy presence in fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures, pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). God gives himself to us for our pleasure. But Lewis has shown us that unless those pleasures find expression in praise to God, the pleasures are restricted. And therefore God, not wanting to restrict your pleasure in any way, says, “Praise me. In everything you do, praise me. In everything you do, exalt me. In everything you do, have a passion for my supremacy,” which simply means that God’s passion to be glorified and your passion to rejoice and be satisfied are not at odds. They come together. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
Now that’s the end of this morning’s talk. Let me tell you where we’re going with this tomorrow, so you can be praying toward it and so that you can, I hope, come and let me finish, because I’m not finished. If this is true, that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him–and therefore there is no tension or contradiction between your satisfaction in him and his glorification in you–then the vocation of your life is to pursue your pleasure. I call it Christian hedonism, and I want to talk to you tomorrow about how you do that and why it will transform your relationships, your campuses, your worship, and your eternity.
– John Piper (Passion for the Supremacy of Christ, Part 1)