Saturday morning at about 10 o’clock it was dark outside. Minutes later we heard thunder that sounded like the percussion section of the Chicago Symphony. Lightning, wind and rain added their special effects to the stormy composition.
The performance was awesome. Not an “awesome dude” kind of awesome like one might use to describe a good movie or a roller-coaster ride, but like the word’s actual meaning: “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” Saturday’s storm was literally awesome. I was filled with respect for its power and strength. (And we started placing bets on when the power would go out…thankfully, it didn’t.)
I had a similar awakening a few years ago after getting rolled into the surf by powerful ocean waves during a vacation at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Standing in water just barely above my waist, I thought I’d try a little body surfing like several others around me were doing. Let’s just say that I did not ride a wave; the wave rode me. I got tossed into the sand, lost a contact lens, and emerged with a new respect for the power of even “small” waves right near the shore. The waves were awesome.
Other moments of awe are stunning, not because of their power, but because they are so very personal. During that same beach vacation, a wonderful week with three other families, we were fascinated by jumping stingrays. Some stingrays, we learned, occasionally jump out of the water and flip back in. Who knew? One late afternoon, as we sat in front of the surf, I said, “I’d love to see one of those jumping stingrays!” And in less than thirty seconds, right in front of us, a stingray jumped. Twice.
Now, you might say that was a coincidence, but I believe that God, the same powerful God who conducts symphonies in the sky and directs the crashing waves, decided to delight us in a very personal way that day. It was awesome.
In the Bible, when God or one of his angels makes an appearance to one of his people, the universal reaction is fall-on-your face humility, fear, stunned silence, and reverent awe. It is an appropriate response to an almighty God who holds our lives in his hands. And then God, or his messenger, offers the comforting phrase: “Do not be afraid.” His awesome and fearful power are overwhelming, yet his heart is inviting.
C.S. Lewis captured this tension in his portrayal of Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan is being described to Susan and Lucy by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and Lucy asked, “‘Then he is safe?’ ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver… ‘Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.'” And at the conclusion of the book Mr. Beaver says of Aslan, “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t…It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you musn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
God is not tame. God is dangerous, and he is good. God is fearful, and he is gentle. God is powerful, and he is tender. He is awesome.
How do you perceive God? Fearful? Tender? Powerful? Gentle? All of the above and much more? What are some of your moments of awe?