What does it mean to want praises of man?
Answer: It means we are consumed by our stature before others as a direct result of pride.
This question should resonate with us all because it represents the great human dilemma since the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve ate of the Tree, it seems their prior, undifferentiated perfection was shattered as they at once became disassociated with one another into self-identities. Our original parents were no longer at one with God, at one with each other, or at one with their environment. They became separate and distinct — spiritually and intellectually detached.
Their disobedience deprived them of their blessed, shared consciousness replacing it with selfish, personal identities. And, with an intense recognition of self, there is an awareness of what one does, of what can be done to them, and of what one can do to others. There is a profound vulnerability associated with individuality. It is the instant recognition that a person is alone in their thoughts about themselves and their surroundings. The “self” presents great restrictions because an acute sense of responsibility arises with such awareness: we are capable either of acting in accordance with God’s wishes or of behaving contrary to His expectations and thus committing sinful acts.
Through this individual identity, we entertain evil thoughts and intentions, theft, coveting, lust, cheating, envy, murder, strife, and so on (Mk. 7:21-23). All that defiles us as human beings originates from our sense of self – our Pride – a soul spiritually adrift from all others. Author C.S. Lewis once wrote something poignant about this:
The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world, just as people who have been brought up to be dirty are afraid of a bath. And in a sense, it is quite right. It knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centeredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that. (Mere Christianity, "The Obstinate Toy Soldiers.")
Our consuming sense of self is the very foundation upon which we become our own god, blinded by our narcissistic ambitions. Everything else becomes incidental as a means of gratifying our insatiable psyche. When we reflect on our very early years as children around the age of four, we had not yet formed any defining sense of personhood. We were largely unaware of the world and of all that it represents, often oblivious to our surroundings; we might easily step directly in front of oncoming traffic. Generally speaking, we lived a quasi-heavenly existence, at relative peace with God and ourselves. We had not yet eaten of the Tree of Knowledge. Since that blessed time, we have metaphorically done so and now demand the praises of all whom we encounter, just as the Pharisees recorded in John 12:42-43.
There seems to be a distinct parallel between the effects of consuming the forbidden fruit (disobedience) and our own awareness at a very tender age. Prior to that, we really have little consciousness of our vulnerabilities. By five years or so, we too begin to understand the difference between right and wrong. We start to recognize that we have disobeyed our parents and are conscious of our guilt — just as if we too had partaken of the same deadly fruit. Once we become fully aware of ourselves as uniquely separate individuals, we have become thoroughly unrighteous beings.
Note what Christ has to say, and think for a moment why He said it:
Matthew 18:1-4: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Christ has just proclaimed that humility, the absence of pride, is what exalts us. If that is true, then the opposite must also be true: Pride is that which demeans and diminishes us, and it always has since the Garden.
Personal identity is not a blessing; it is a curse. It is being consumed by an intimate recognition of the evils with which one is capable, in stark contrast to the harmony one experiences before this individuation occurs. This may be precisely what happened to Adam and Eve. Although they formerly possessed a conscious awareness, they did not possess a self-conscious distinctiveness, one overwhelmed by feelings of detachment and isolation.
Adam and Eve's child-like innocence was that which obscured their nakedness. Once we too lose that purity, our nakedness is instantly revealed — along with all the ills that plague humanity.