Nothing is More Reasonable
If God’s glory is his beauty, then we are commanded to love him ultimately, because that’s what you do with ultimate beauty. The beauty of something calls for a response. According to Psalm 29:1-2, God has glory due to him.
Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
To say God has glory due his name is to say his character has a certain value and calls for an appropriate response. God, because of who he is, deserves a certain kind of treasuring or honouring or valuing, and such a response is payable by all his creatures. Indeed, this is our created purpose: to magnify his glory, or to show forth his beauty.
Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” (Isaiah 43:6-7)
You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created. (Revelation 4:11)
We know from experience that the more useful, the more satisfying, the more impressive, the more magnificent the thing is that we observe or experience, the more our hearts urge us to announce the glory due to it. So it is with God. God is not a needy, hungry God, trying to stir up an army of insincere flatterers. God is more beautiful than the sum total of all his works. To know him – to know the beauty of his holiness – is to sense in your heart the reasonableness of loving God ultimately. There is a weight of God’s glory that presses upon us. The more we know God, the more we ought to feel the intensity of the need to respond in worship.
From the rising of the sun to its going down The LORD’s name is to be praised. (Psalm 113:3)
Bernard of Clairvaux tells us that nothing is more reasonable than loving God. A refusal to recognise and reflect God’s beauty would place one at odds with reason. There is a word we have for people who do not recognise the value of something they ought to: unjust. A just person is fair in his judgement. The most beautiful being in the universe not only deserves to be loved ultimately, but the refusal to do so is a form of lying. If God is infinitely beautiful, then to act as if he is not is an insult of infinite proportions. Sin is that insult. Sin is falling short of the glory of God by treating him as if he is not infinitely worthy.
What is a just and fitting punishment for an infinite offence? An infinite punishment. The doctrine of Hell only makes sense when we understand that God is infinitely beautiful. In fact, the Christian gospel seems ridiculous unless you understand this. We know how outraged we feel when someone desecrates beauty – polluting or dirtying a place of nature, vandalising a sculpture, slashing a beautiful painting, torturing an animal, or abusing a young child. We feel a kind of moral pain when beauty is somehow harmed or trampled upon. Take that sentiment and multiply it as many times as you are able, and you can begin to grasp the crime of treating the most Beautiful One as less than infinitely beautiful. It is an outrage of infinite proportions, a revolting, despicable, heinous act of self-serving, brutal treason, that the creatures should treat the Most Beautiful One as if he is not, and treat themselves as if they are. For creatures to ungratefully take his gifts, made with his hands, and substitute them for him, suppressing their knowledge of him, because they are contemptuous of his right to receive ultimate love, is an act of violence against God. This is what we do. This is what sin is. And this is why the Son of God came to earth to die. He died as a substitute for sinners, experiencing the infinite wrath of God on the cross, so that we could be declared innocent of our infinite crimes of insulting the infinitely beautiful God. His mercy and grace are infinitely beautiful.
This is why loving God ultimately is the great priority of the Christian life – because loving God ultimately is the way human beings acknowledge God’s infinite beauty. Loving God ultimately is the value statement that moral beings make about God.
Nothing is More Profitable
Gladly, there is a second reason why loving God is the great priority of the Christian life, and it has to do with God’s love for us. The experience of loving beauty is also an experience of delight for the beholder. No one begrudges the experience of seeing or hearing or experiencing beauty. In fact, we seek after such experiences. We regard them not as painful duties, but as pleasurable delights. We love beauty. We love human beauty. We love moral beauty. We love artistic beauty. We love intellectual beauty. We love natural beauty. We admire beauty, we seek it out, and we enjoy it for its own sake. Beauty brings pleasure.
Things do not become beautiful when they pleasure us; true beauty brings pleasure because it is beautiful. Augustine put it this way, “If I were to ask first whether things are beautiful because they give pleasure, or give pleasure because they are beautiful, I have no doubt that I will be given the answer that they give pleasure because they are beautiful.”1 God is not beautiful because he is enjoyable to humans; God is enjoyable to (regenerated) humans because he is beautiful.
If God is the essence of all that is true, good, and beautiful, what sort of experience is it to know him and love him? He must be the ultimate source of delight, fulfilment and joy for a human being. In that case, calls to love him ultimately are calls from the lesser to the greater, calls to ascend from lesser joys to greater, from inferior to superior pleasures. The pleasure of what is beautiful in the world is only a shadow, an echo, of the one who is Beautiful. A call to love God is a call to the sweetest experience a human can know: the rapturous awe of beholding beauty.
This is why Jesus prayed these words before his betrayal and passion:
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13)
And here we tread upon perhaps the ultimate metaphysical reality: God’s love for God. The reason why loving God is at the heart of our existence is because it is at the heart of God’s. The tri-une God has always been a three-way expression of mutual dependence and delight.
Worship is our ultimate satisfaction. If God is the most valuable Being you can know, the most loving thing he can do is to allow you to know and enjoy him. Therefore, our lives find their satisfaction, meaning, purpose and peace in a fervent relationship with him.
Lewis’ objections to God’s calls for worship were resolved when he understood that worship is the pleasure of beholding and experiencing God as both need and gift. His oft-quoted words summarise why exalting and exulting are one. “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 honour. 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…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. ”2 Far from being the petty, megalomaniacal, pathological narcissist that some atheists make him out to be, God wants nothing but our deepest joys, and highest fulfilments. Only a loving God would set up creation so that our greatest obligation should turn out to be our greatest pleasure, and our deepest joys should intersect with our designed purpose.
Loving God in ultimate dependence and delight is the conjunction of human fulfilment and God’s pleasure. It fulfils our deepest longings, and it expresses the worth of God. When we do this, we reflect his excellence, and find our deepest satisfaction.