A Wall Street Journal article says, “Studies find the emotion of awe may make people more empathetic, trusting, generous, and humble.”1 One cited case follows the experience of a diver who descends upon a sunken ship. At 110 feet, the shape of the great hulk materializes. She swims into the structure, encountering exotic fish that dart back and forth, and the brilliant coral that has engulfed the vessel’s steel beams.
The dimensions and aesthetics of the scene fairly swallow the divers. “Awe” is the only appropriate word for the moment—when detached analysis seems foolish and wooden, when attempts at description actually perform a disservice.
Such experiences are good for you.
The awe of our Christian walk can leach out like water through a cheesecloth. Even a mealtime prayer can fall victim to it. One of the easiest things in the world is to say “Thank you, Jesus” over a plate of pork chops, while possessed by completely different sentiments:
I graduated high school and got into college, shouldered an enormous burden of educational debt, and studied like crazy. I barely graduated, then begged my way into a starter position in my field where I make peanuts. Now I keep a tight budget, only take El cheapo vacations, and buy generic from the grocery store, which is what I’ve put on the table tonight—so…thank you, Jesus…I guess.
That’s not awe—that’s a raisin.
Why do we need special moments, anyway? Well, for one thing, glorious experiences function to humble you and redirect your confidence away from yourself.
Think of the times you attended a phenomenal ministry event, or when you felt flooded with grace during a morning devotional. These shouldn’t be discarded as mere emotions. True, emotion might have been involved, but the Holy Spirit still works according to His own agenda. Mountaintop experiences are more than random flashes of inspiration assigned by God to entertain you.
Consider when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with Him.
“And He was transfigured…His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light” (Matt. 17:2). That common Jewish carpenter who had the glory of God bottled up inside of Him, allowed it to visibly emerge for a few precious moments. ²
“…there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him” (Matt. 17:3). Although Elijah had been taken to heaven almost nine hundred years before this moment, and Moses had died six hundred years before Elijah, the glory of Christ was so brilliant that both of them stood there, equally viable, alive, and alert.
Peter, of course, had been inspired by all of this. He offered to build tents to honor Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
“He was still speaking, when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’” (Matt. 17:5).
God gave this vision to turn the disciples’ attention exclusively to Jesus and get them to listen to Him. This awesome scene—the transfigured Christ, the raising of the dead, the cloud of glory—were used to promote listening. That should say something about the importance God places on our hearing His Son.
We’ll often mistake an incredible event as a time for talk radio, like Peter, who began to generate some noise. He had some ideas about what ought to be done, but God shut it all down. Nothing negative here, of course. Awe doesn’t make you feel small. It makes you aware of how small you actually are. It turns your omniscient mouth into a humble ear.
Doctors always seem to be warning us about the dangers of deafness. In a generation that can’t seem to do anything without ear buds and high-definition music, hearing loss has now become reality. It’s hard to focus in an environment where text alerts bleep and zing and endless music pipes into our brains.
While trying to listen to everything, we end up not hearing the one voice more important than all of them combined. Sometimes God will break through this self-inflicted ADHD with a painful crisis moment, as He did with Job.
At other times He’ll unexpectedly douse you with reality as you read the Scriptures and the verse you’ve read a dozen times before speaks with undeniable authority. As you’re sitting in church, there’s a moment when light spills into your soul. As you recollect the words of a trusted Christian friend, they come back to you with a special kind of power. As you sing along with a worship song in your car, it seems as though you’re caught up into a parallel universe of sorts.
1 Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal (Online) [New York, N.Y.] 23 Feb. 2015.
2 Decades later, Peter was still thinking and talking about it (c.f. 2 Pet. 1:16-18).
Photo credit: Bo Insogna