Sunday, November 20, 2011

God Alone is 'Awesome'

"Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, 'O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules'" (Daniel 9:3-5).

"The great and awesome God"--that is how Daniel described his God, the one and only God, Creator of everything, Master of the Universe, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

God is awesome.

Modern dictionaries define the term "awesome" this way:
1. inspiring awe: an awesome sight.
2. showing or characterized by awe.
3. Slang. very impressive: That new white convertible is totally awesome.
I found it interesting that the word "awesome" doesn't appear in Noah Webster's 1828 edition of the "American Dictionary of the English Language." However, Webster defines the word "awe" (from which the word "awesome" is derived) this way"
"To chastise or correct. To be astonished. Fear mingled with admiration or reverence; reverential fear. Dread inspired by something great or terrific. To strike with fear and reverence; to influence by fear, terror or respect; as, his majesty awed them into silence."
The English Standard Version translation of the Bible uses the English word "awesome" only 33 times. Every occurrence is in the Old Testament. The only reputable translation of the Bible in which the word "awesome" is found in the New Testament (Acts 2:20) is the New King James. It's interesting to note that the King James version of the Bible does not have a single use of the word "awesome" in either the Old or New Testaments.

In the English Standard version of the Scriptures, with the exception of two verses in the Song of Solomon (6:4, 6:10) in which Solomon compares the beauty of his wife to an army with colorful banners, every use of the word "awesome" is in reference to either God Himself, where He is, an aspect of His character, or something He has done (Genesis 28:17; Exodus 15:11; 34:10; Deuteronomy 7:21; 10:17; 28:58; Judges 13:6; 2 Samuel 7:23; 1 Chronicles 17:21; Nehemiah 1:5; 4:14; 9:32; Job 37:22; Psalm 45:4; 65:5; 66:1, 3, 5; 68:35; 89:7; 99:3; 106:22; 111:9; 145:6; Isaiah 64:3; Ezekiel 1:18; Daniel 9:4; Joel 2:11; 2:31; Zephaniah 2:11; Malachi 4:5).

God clearly describes Himself in His Word as awesome. Scripture also makes clear that God is unique. There is none like Him.
"For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth" (Exodus 9:14).

"There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God" (1 Samuel 2:2).

"There is none like you, O LORD, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears" (1 Chronicles 17:20).

"There is none like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is great in might" (Jeremiah 10:6).
During episode #221 of "On the Box," at the 8:15 mark, I referred to Mark and Brad as "awesome." I quickly corrected myself before moving on to the next segment. At the 20:50 mark, someone in the chat room asked, "Why is it wrong to use the word 'awesome?'" I learned later there was at least one person in the show's chat room found my position legalistic.

Words have meaning. The meanings of words change and multiply, over time. "Bad" can mean "good." "Sick" can mean "impressive." And "awesome" can be and is often applied to anything we enjoy, appreciate, and about people and things we describe with amazement.

I understand unbelievers find many things, other than God, awesome. And I understand Christians use the word "awesome" much the same way unbelievers do, with no intention of acting irreverently toward God, or placing anyone or anything above Him. I don't think it is automatically a sin when Christians ascribe the word "awesome" to people, places, and things other than God.

However, considering how the word "awesome" is used in Scripture, coupled with the dictionary's definition of the term, the question I must ask my Christian readers (a question I asked of myself and answered some time ago) is this. Should Christians use the word "awesome" to describe anything other than that which can be directly attributed to the person, nature, character, and work of God? For me, the answer is no.

The word "awesome" has, as part of its definition, an evocation of fear. God and God alone is to be feared. Is this to say Christians do not become afraid at times? No. Christians, like everyone else become fearful at times. But whatever Christians fear other than God is a result of sin. Fear of man, fear of circumstances, fear of the unknown, fear of the future--all such fear is birthed from a lack of trust in God. All such fear is birthed from a lack of reverence for God. All such fear is birthed from a failure to recognize God as omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and sovereign over all He has created. When we are afraid, whatever we fear is, at that moment, what we are worshiping.

God is awesome. He alone is to be feared, reverenced, and worshiped. And those who fear the Lord, those who recognize that He is awesome, are those who are wise. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever" (Psalm 110:10)! How comforting to know that God keeps a protective, loving, fatherly eye on those who understand He is awesome--on those who reverently fear Him. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine" (Psalm 33:18-19).

God is awesome. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).

"Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth" (Psalm 57:5)!

"Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it" (Job 38:3-5)?

The image of the sunburst over the Earth is beautiful, but it is not awesome. The God who created the heavens, the God who instilled in man a desire to discover and who enabled man to develop the technology to view the heavens--He is awesome.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).

"Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3).

Albert Pujols* is arguably one of the greatest major league baseball players of this or any other era. It is easy to mistakenly describe his varied skills as awesome. But neither Albert Pujols nor his skills are awesome. The God who made Albert Pujols is awesome. The one who knit Albert together in his mother's womb (Psalm 139:13) is awesome. The God who numbered Albert's days before he was born (Psalm 139:16), He is awesome. Every talent Albert possesses is a gift from God (James 1:17), the awesome God.

I could give other examples, of course. But suffice to say God alone is awesome. And His awesomeness is plainly seen to all who do not suppress this inescapable truth by their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-23).

As a Christian, it is important to me that I declare the glory of God whenever I have occasion to do so. One way I do that is by trying never to give glory to or take any glory for anything made or accomplished. Rather, I try to give all the glory to the Maker and the One who enables His creation to accomplish anything. One way I try to do this is by seeing to it I assign the word "awesome" only to that which can be directly attributed to the person, nature, character, and work of God.

Some may see this as a legalistic restriction on a commonly used and universally accepted word. I see it as an act of worship. Again, I am not saying a Christian sins by assigning the word "awesome" to someone or something other than God. I am not saying that Christians who use the word "awesome" as just another slang term are less worshipful than I am.

However, as Christians, we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our being (Mark 12:29-31). We are to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Our worship of and love for Him should make our affections for anything and anyone else to appear as hatred by way of comparison (Luke 14:25-27). And for me, referring to God alone as awesome is one small way I have determined to love and worship Him.

"Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man" (Psalm 66:5).

God alone is awesome!

*Photo of Albert Pujols taken by Dave Herholz, September 2006, and used with permission.