When I write on Mondays, I want to talk about our state of being, and how we are meant to live. Society and culture everywhere lack some or other of what God calls us to. There is so much glory and goodness awaiting us! I’ve posted here and here about being in awe, and here you can find more background. I think I keep coming back to this because it’s so foundational for me.
So you guys. I’m not really done talking about awe. Sorry. But not.
I’m being consistently reminded of how necessary this is. It’s how we’re supposed to be. I so much believe that.
Last time I wrote the ‘how to be,’ I remarked that awe is not pure fear – it is fear and reverence and delight and peace all in one. But it might take us a bit to get to that. So I’ve thought about how that internal journey sometimes looks.
First, it takes us acknowledging God’s glory and sovereignty. It takes us at least admitting that we’re tiny. We might not have let go of the power we imagine we have, but we have hopefully noted that God is eternal and we are dust.
A fairly natural consequence of such an acknowledgement is to be afraid. In Hebrews 10, the author discusses the judgement that awaits those who sin in light of Christ’s sacrifice, effectively profaning Him. ‘For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ (Hebrews 10:30-31) God alone has the right to punish, and His holiness and power should be terrifying to those who have no hope in salvation.
There’s this gorgeous hymn. Let all mortal flesh keep silence. And, you’re welcome, I’m putting all the verses. If that seems too much to read, we have bigger issues here. 🙂
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the shadows clear away.
At His feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
alleluia, Lord most high!”
This song always does something to me. It puts me in my place, and I am happy to be here. I am overwhelmed with the privilege of being here. That I could sit at the feet of God is the most marvelous gift. That He could accept me in all my refuse and filth is an incomprehensible grace. And all I will ever be able to return is ‘Alleluia, Lord Most High.’
And please enjoy a pithy quote from Calvin …
“So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity. Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God. When we see those who previously stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death takes hold of them, nay, they are, in a manner, swallowed up and annihilated, the inference to be drawn is that men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. Frequent examples of this consternation occur both in the Book of Judges and the Prophetical Writings; so much so, that it was a common expression among the people of God, “We shall die, for we have seen the Lord.” Hence the Book of Job, also, in humbling men under a conviction of their folly, feebleness, and pollution, always derives its chief argument from descriptions of the Divine wisdom, virtue, and purity. Nor without cause: for we see Abraham the readier to acknowledge himself but dust and ashes the nearer he approaches to behold the glory of the Lord, and Elijah unable to wait with unveiled face for His approach; so dreadful is the sight. And what can man do, man who is but rottenness and a worm, when even the Cherubim themselves must veil their faces in very terror? To this, undoubtedly, the Prophet Isaiah refers, when he says (Isaiah 24:23), “The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign;” i.e., when he shall exhibit his refulgence, and give a nearer view of it, the brightest objects will, in comparison, be covered with darkness.” (Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chapter 1)
What I mean to say is that the better we know God, the better we see our own dust-ness. And we have nothing to protect us from His wrath or from the glory of His Presence. This is an incredibly important truth to know. But not to dwell in by itself, alone.
Because God is not all anger and terror. In very fact, He is near and merciful. He is gentle, compassionate, and forgiving. It simply wouldn’t do to remain in quaking fear without love. What good is that? The fear is only the beginning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10)
I absolutely think our society has an enormous problem. And I would say Christians have the same problem as anyone else: we don’t believe that God is that great. That all-powerful. That worthy of complete worship and deference. I think we don’t get it. We don’t really know Him if we don’t fear Him. Awe and wisdom are together. It is wise to be in awe, because when we’re in awe, we are acknowledging the truth about God. When we’re not in awe, we are foolishly ignoring plain reality.
Now listen to this song. And agree. Let it sink into your heart. We don’t know anything about holy. God is too great for us.
But He is near to us. It has to be an intimate fear. One that believes He loves us, and that desires Him.
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees God’s glory and recognizes his unworthiness in the Presence of God’s purity. And then God tells him his sin is atoned for.
What else can you do after God says, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for”? There was no hesitation from Isaiah. God told him what to do, and he only asked “how long?”¹
So we know that, although we are nothing, He made us in His image. He made us His own. And we spit on Him and we disregarded His law and scorned Him to the greatest extent. And then He atoned for our filth and hatred toward Him, even as we gave Him every reason not to.
Hm. How shall we respond to such ridiculous, outrageous, foolish love? Our answer, unspoken, un-thought, is “let’s forget about all that, except at a surface level. Let’s carry on as though we can take care of ourselves. That’ll be the best.” But if we do really know God, and if He has really loved us that way, here’s what we should do. We should fall before Him. We should worship Him and be at peace, utter peace.
So we have to let go, Reader. Is that a little scary? Only if you believe you are in control of things and always make the best decisions and don’t need salvation. Which I do. Yeah, all the time.
Let’s give up on that. The gloriousness of awe means I don’t have to be deluded that I am in control; I can be at peace. I’m not in charge of maintaining the universe or atoms. I’m not in charge of justice or salvation. Glory be. You might read Psalm 96.
Contentment is essential to this awe-being. I spoke of longing before – of longing for eternity and the fullness of God Himself. Longing for wholeness.
But contentment is also there in awe. It looks like rest and thankfulness.
Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to me, the least of saints, to me, allow that I may keep even the smallest door – the farthest, darkest, coldest door, the door that is least used, the stiffest door – if only it be in Your house, O God. That I can see Your glory from afar, and hear Your voice, and know that I am with You, O God. (St. Columba)
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)
Let us respond with adoration. What else is there to do?
“I’m afraid that I can never do justice in describing or explaining the majesty, power, and perfection of Jesus. That’s the nature of human discussions, I suppose. No matter how high above my own experience I reach, I’ll never be able to adequately pen the qualities of a perfect God. And so even my attempts to expose how I have domesticated Jesus will do just that: I’m bound to domesticate Him further—to wrap Him within pages of description implies that He is small enough to describe. To have humans speak of Him, to write of Him, implies that we can in some way wrap the human mind around Him.”²
“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces.”³
How, then, shall we be?
on our faces.
A pair of delightful awe songs to get your blood pumping.
Rising Sun – All Sons & Daughters
Great I AM – New Life Worship
³Lewis, C.S. (1962) The problem of pain. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company