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Faces on Faith: Wonder and awe

By Staff | Dec 16, 2015

A recent study suggests that experiencing a sense of awe promotes altruism, loving-kindness, and magnanimous behavior. (Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior,” by Paul Piff, PhD, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.)

We need more experiences of awe!

The researchers involved in the study describe awe as “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.”

Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t sense many people experiencing awe and wonder in faith communities these days. I don’t mean the manufactured feelings or spiritual highs brought on by manipulative antics or music, but rather that life transforming and renewing sense of God that leaves a person breathless and captivated by the drama of God.

Although there is a sense in which awe experiences are beyond our individual control and involve an element of serendipitous surprise, the Hebrew Scriptures teach us that sensitivity to awe is a virtue that may be cultivated.

For example, individuals are encouraged to “be stunned and amazed” (Isaiah 29:9) and to “stop and consider God’s wonders.” (Job 37:14).

And, as Rabbi Heschel translated Psalm 111.10 – “the awe of God is the beginning of wisdom”

I find myself in the realm of awe and wonder when I reflect on the love of God. Recently, as I was reading the Prophet Hosea again, I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of awe as I read and reflected on these words:

My people are hell-bent on leaving me. They pray to god Baal for help.

He doesn’t lift a finger to help them. But how can I give up on you, Ephraim?

How can I turn you loose, Israel?

How can I leave you to be ruined like Adma, devastated like luckless Zeboim?

I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest.

And so I’m not going to act on my anger. I’m not going to destroy Ephraim.

And why? Because I am God and not a human. I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your midst.

(The Message, Hosea 11)

Doesn’t that leave you breathless? Don’t these words just blow you away?

Hear them in the context of Hosea’s prophetic ministry of crying out harsh words of condemnation and judgment to come on his fellow countrymen because they had walked away from the God who had delivered them out of slavery.

This prophet made it clear that God, like a shunned parent, was wounded and angry because those God had done so much for had walked away and turned to other gods.

Hosea images God in anger bringing harsh judgment upon them.

BUTthe prophet comes to realize that God cannot go against God’s own nature “I am God and not a human.”

Surprise – The love of God is greater far than the anger of God.

Perhaps awe is a misunderstood and neglected emotion central to our journey of faith and deserving our consideration. As the late Michael Yaconelli stated in his book, “Dangerous Wonder:”

“Tameness is not an option. Take surprise out of faith and all that is left is dry and dead religion. Take away mystery from the Gospel and all that is left is frozen and petrified dogma. Lose your awe of God and you are left with an impotent Deity. Abandon astonishment and you are left with meaningless piety.”

In my teen years I never missed the Sunday evening radio broadcast of Bill Graham’s Hour of Decision. Sometimes his soloist George Beverly Shea would sing:

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,

The wonder as sunrise I see;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul

Is the wonder that God loves me.

Refrain

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!

Just to think that God loves me.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!

Just to think that God loves me.

I can’t help but believe that Hosea didn’t sit there with his mouth dropped open in shock when it dawned on him that God is love and the lover of even those who have turned their back on God.

I know this truth transcends my understanding and I stand in awe and wonder!

– George Morris, Captiva Chapel by the Sea Minister