The Bible often describes God as being “worthy of praise.” (See 1 Chronicles 16:25, Psalm 48:1, and Psalm 145:3 for some examples.) I was singing at church last week when I started to wonder—what does that actually mean? Why should we praise God? What makes Him worthy? What makes any of us worthy of praise?
I had these questions in mind when, later that day, I clicked on the news and was inundated by the media’s hot question of the week: Is McCain a war hero? Yes, he was shot down and captured, and spent considerable time as a POW. So, does that make him a hero?
How do you define what a hero is? Take a moment and think about your answer to that question.
I see a hero as someone who risks their well-being, perhaps their life, to help others. The fireman who rushes into a burning building when everyone else is running the other way, the father who jumps into a rushing river to save a child, the nuns who give up comfort and security to minister in the hard places to those in desperate need… to me, those are heroes.
But is being taken prisoner heroic?
It’s amazing how much attention this question has garnered. Since I don’t know Senator McCain, and I wasn’t there when he was shot down or while he was in the prison camp, I don’t have enough information to answer the question. However, based on what I do know, I don’t think he is. I might sympathize with how awful it all was, and how much he sacrificed. I might appreciate his stamina, to survive such an ordeal. But does involuntarily enduring hardship make someone a hero? I suppose that, while in captivity, McCain might have distinguished himself in some heroic way—perhaps he risked himself to assist another prisoner, for example—but if so, no one has mentioned it.
Pete and I were heading up to the mountains last weekend when we passed a convoy of men driving Hummers. I looked at these dozen or so guys at the wheel of these big, heavy, vehicles, slowly winding up the highway (and, I might add, blocking traffic) and thought, “They probably think they’re pretty macho, but all they’re doing is sitting there. Fossil fuels are doing the hard work.” It’s like the people who feel proud of themselves when their city’s team wins. What did they, personally, do to feel such pride? The athletes did all the work!
It even applies to our pride in our country, race, nationality, or even sexual orientation. Should we feel proud for being born someplace? Having skin that’s a particular shade of tan? Should we be proud of being born with a particular sexual preference, when (as has now been shown) we had nothing to do with it? Acceptance is one thing. Being praised is another.
In the drive to increase our self-esteem, much credit is being given to characteristics or identities that we did nothing to gain. No wonder it all rings hollow. I only feel better about myself when I actually accomplish something difficult. That’s why I usually limit my praise to times when someone does the same—for instance, competes in a race, earns a degree, or perseveres through some hardship or challenge. They’ve achieved something that’s truly worthy.
As I spend time with our young granddaughters, I’m trying to keep this in mind. Rather than only telling them that they’re cute or pretty, complimenting their haircut, or exclaiming over their new shoes, I stay alert for things they do: “That’s a tall tower you built with your blocks!” “I love how you said ‘please; and ‘thank you.’” “You did a good job dressing yourself this morning!”*
So what about praising God? We praise His character—His goodness, beauty, magnificence, etc.—and that’s appropriate. And we praise Him for His actions—the many, many ways He lavishes His love on us.