Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!Psalm 33:8
Yesterday, the day after I posted my piece on religion without awe (Are We Drifting Toward a Religion Without Awe?), there was an article in USA Today about the importance of – you guessed it – awe! Isn’t that, well, awesome? (Here’s a link to the article: Awe makes us happier, healthier and humbler.)
So, science now agrees that awe is important to us. It has tangible health benefits. According to this article, “Researchers say awe has a range of emotional, social and physiological health benefits. Awe is shown to make us happier and contribute to greater life satisfaction, to make us care more about other people and to increase our humility.”
This timely article reminds me of two very important truths. (Other than the obvious one, which is the importance of experiencing awe in life.)
The first truth this article reminds me of is that almost everything that God wants for us turns out to be good for us. Even God’s commandments are good for us. Sabbath rest is good for us, being grateful, forgiving others, spending time in personal prayer, and being part of a community that cares for one another. These are just a few examples. It seems that on a regular basis I come across an article pointing out the health benefits of these things that God wants for us all. Awe is simply the latest example.
The USA Today article defines awe in this way: “We feel awe when we encounter something with qualities so extraordinary it seems incomprehensible.” As Christians, our every encounter with God leads to this, because God’s ways are not our ways. We look at the Grand Canyon, for example, and stand in wonder at the overwhelming beauty of God’s creation. We open our Bible and read a verse that speaks perfectly to what we are going through, and we marvel. We see God answering prayer in ways great or small, and we are in awe. We gather with other Christians to worship God, and our hearts are lifted up. In all of these examples, we are encountering something – God – with qualities so extraordinary it seems incomprehensible. And this fills us with awe.
But that leads me to the second truth that this article reminds me of, because it is striking to me that this entire article about awe is written without ever referring to God! Not once does this article even acknowledge that our faith can be one way to experience awe in life. I’m not complaining about this – after all, this is a secular news source. I am just observing that we live in an age that is so secular that articles about forgiveness, gratitude, and even awe can be written without ever mentioning God. That would have been impossible to even consider centuries ago. Awe without God? And this is just another way of describing what I have been writing about in my last couple of posts ( Are We Drifting Toward a Religion Without Awe? and The Devout Christian of the Future) – that we can no longer assume that people will see God in this awesome world that God made. If they are going to see God in this world, it is going to be through our faith and witness.
Our challenge and mission as Christians is to help our neighbors look at a beautiful sunset and be awed by God’s handiwork. To put it a little differently, we live in a world that experiences awe and says “How great this is!” Our task as Christians is to help them (and sometimes us!) experience awe and exclaim “How Great Thou Art!”
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder Consider all the works thy hands hath made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed; Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art, how great thou art!