We stood several miles away and stared at Mt. Merapi in the pitch black Indonesian night as it belched red fire and sparks into the sky and leaked molten lava down its slopes.
I was speechless. Awestruck.
We experience precious little awe in our lives. We rarely stare at a sunset or lay on our backs and gaze at the stars, but in Psalm 119:161, the psalmist tells us, “Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.”
Awe, according to researcher Paul Piff is “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” By that definition, the Word of God is definitely something that should bring us awe. And yet, often our encounters with the Word bring more aw shucks than awestruck.
I suspect there are several reasons. One that you would readily guess is that we simply do not ascribe to God the glory that he deserves.
But, another reason (that is closely tied to the first) is that culturally, we have lost a collective sense of awe. We believe that we can (and should) be able to control everything. As a result of our misplaced pride, we cease to be amazed by anything.
Consider how people would have reacted 200 years ago to the thought of intercontintal air travel. Consider how just 50 years ago people would have been amazed at the internet or self-driving cars. Today we are unfazed by flushing toilets and powerful antibiotics. We continue to exercise dominion, but we do so without even a tip of the hat to God who has given us the command and ability to do so. We build cities in deserts without amazement and then are surprised that droughts threaten the water supply.
In a desert.
Why? We believe that we are in control, and as a result nothing impresses us anymore.
When awe leaves, it leaves every arena of life. Awe is similar to a muscle. If you have the strength to lift a 50 pound child you can lift a fifty pound weight or a bag of fertilizer. Likewise, if you can experience awe at a sunset or a waterfall, you can experience awe at God’s word. Consider the effects of awe as described by Piff and his team.
When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you’re at the center of the world anymore. By shifting attention toward larger entities and diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, we reasoned that awe would trigger tendencies to engage in prosocial behaviors that may be costly for you but that benefit and help others.
No wonder that awe may help us to better understand God’s word. When we turn our attention away from ourselves, we find it easier to hear from the Lord and to be amazed by who he is, what he has done, and what he says to us.
So, get outside. Look up. Look around. Awaken your sense of amazement. Kindle your experiences of awe, and watch God use your child-like wonder to ignite a child-like faith that can change your life and the lives of those around you.
How do you find awe in the world around you? Let me know in the comments below.