ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
OUR AWESOME GOD!
- Our Awesome God.
Well would you describe God as awesome? The first thing you would have to do in answering that question is to decide what the word awesome really means. Obviously it is derived from the more basic word “awe” and this is defined in one dictionary as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Another dictionary suggests “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, etc.” It would seem that the trend of various definitions is a sense of something very majestic which causes respect, wonder and fear in the beholder.
So does this fit with the way in which you see God? I think it should but I am conscious that many people would not agree and would choose either not to think about God at all or to treat Him more like Aladdin’s genie of the lamp as One who should do for us just what we want when we want it.
I hope that, in this paper, I can justify the ancient idea that God should be seen as awesome.
- Some “ancient” responses to God.
By “ancient” I simply mean those who lived in Old Testament times. Some of them really recognised that God is awesome. Let me share five examples with you.
[2.1] Abraham. When he had reached the grand old age of ninety-nine, Abraham was very concerned that he and his wife had had no children. Then God appeared to him and told Abraham that they would still have a child. In amazement Abraham “Fell face down” before God (Genesis 17:3), surely a reaction to an awesome message from an awesome God.
[2.2] Moses. He had fled from Egypt and was acting as a desert shepherd when God appeared to him through a burning bush that miraculously did not burn away. When God “introduced” Himself, Moses “hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)
[2.3] Isaiah. Surely one of the great prophets, Isaiah was given a vision of God, “seated on a throne, high and exalted” with heavenly creatures in attendance. This awe-inspiring vision caused Isaiah to confess, “Woe to me! .. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)
[2.4] Ezekiel. He was also shown a vision of an awesome God, with details that are not easy for us to understand (how can earthly words cope with a detailed description of heavenly things?). However as a result of what he experienced he wrote, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (Ezekiel 1:28b) He may have struggled for words but he reacted just as Abraham had done and fell before an awesome God.
[2.5] Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three men refused to worship a magnificent image of gold that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had set up and demanded that all his officials should bow down to. The penalty for non-obedience was to be thrown into a blazing furnace. These three men were indeed thrown into the furnace, but the king was amazed to see “four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25) When the men came out it was recorded that they were unharmed, their clothes were not damaged and there was no smell of the fire on them. Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction was to respect the awesome God who had so protected His men and to instruct all people to do the same.
One could find other examples of folk who came into contact with God and found that the description “awesome” was most appropriate. However some people might say that this was the sort of behaviour to be expected in those ancient times and we should not feel that it is correct today. So let us move on some many years and ask the question, “was Jesus a source of awe ?”
- The awesome Jesus.
I suspect that most people would not associate the description “awesome” with Jesus Christ. However I want to suggest four examples where it might well be appropriate to do so.
[3.1] Arresting soldiers. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus had been praying, knowing that the authorities were sending soldiers and officials to arrest Him. When they arrived Jesus demanded to know who they wanted. They answered that they had come for “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus then told them, “I am He,” and “they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6). It must have been the awesome bearing of Jesus that had this effect on a hardened bunch of soldiers.
[3.2] Twelve legions of angels. In Matthew’s account of the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus made a remarkable statement:- “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more then twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)
Now I know that Jesus did not request the angelic force because He knew that the correct route had to go by way of the Cross, but just let your imagination see those seventy thousand angels, in full combat gear, walking down Jerusalem High Street with Jesus at their head. Can you think of any more awesome sight?
[3.3] The returning Jesus. Again this has not actually happened – yet. But we are assured that one day it will. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man (Jesus’ favourite title for Himself) will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30) The New Testament is quite clear that one day Jesus will return to this earth, not as a helpless baby but as a reigning King in all His glory. Then all those who have not entrusted themselves to this awesome Saviour will be overwhelmed by His majesty. Indeed they will try and hide from Him and beg “the mountains and the rocks” to fall on them and hide them from “the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (Jesus).” (Revelation 6:16)
[3.4] Paul. Luke, the author of Acts as well as his Gospel, three times tells the story of the conversion of Saul (as St. Paul was originally named) on the road to Damascus. If that amount of space was devoted to one event then it must have been a major event, and indeed it was because it changed the whole history of early Christianity. Saul, who was on his way to Damascus to persecute the fledgling church, became Paul, one of the grea test leaders that the early church had, and through his writings is still teaching the church today. So what brought about this vital change? Luke puts it like this:- “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” He replied. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”” (Acts 9:4-6)
Then Saul, temporarily blinded by the awesome vision, was led by the hand into Damascus, to begin his life of service to Jesus.
So Jesus, too, could show an awesome presence when this was needed, perhaps something we tend to forget.
- The need for Awe today.
So, if you are in agreement that there should be a sense of awe in our practice of Christianity what will that mean in practice. I doubt that, for most folk, it will mean anything very different in quantity but in quality, i.e. to continue to do the basics, but to do them in a more conscientious way.
quot;text-align: justify;”> By the basics I mean prayer, bible reading, worship and reaching out to others, so let us examine what an awesome God might require of us under those headings.
[4.1] Prayer. So often in our prayers we tend to tell God what we would like Him to do, very worthy things maybe, but who are we to tell God what to do. He is definitely not the genie in the lamp. In prayer, we should reflect on His majesty, thank Him for all that He has done for us and then tell Him of our problems and seek His solution and ask that we may align ourselves to His will.
[4.2] Bible reading. We must make time to read His word, or how else can we grow in knowledge of God. There are many excellent guides, both in print and on line, that could help, but they will be no use without a systematic approach that an awesome God deserves.
[4.3] Worship. Regular worship in Church or Chapel should be part of every Christian’s life. However this means more than just sitting in the pew, it means preparing for the act of worship and paying attention during it – surely rejecting the modern tendency to talk about other things if there is a quiet time during the service.
[4.4] Reaching out to others. This would include simple acts of service as well as deliberate evangelism. If the church is to grow it will be because other people are impressed by the way Christian folk behave.
None of us will measure up to all of this, even with a vision of our awesome God in our mind, but we can try, knowing that He loves us and therefore, because of what Jesus did on the cross, He will forgive our failings. Yet we must not use this as an excuse but as a spur to greater reverence before the throne of our awesome God.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.