I have shamelessly lifted this from Jessica’s blog. I trust Malcolm won’t mind. Awe is a much healthier emotion than fear, dontchathink?
When I was a little lad, my dad would take me by the hand and lead me out on to the dunes behind our home.
“Now look up into the sky,” he would say, or words to that effect. He would then point to the milky way and the numerous consellations. We are blessed here on West Cornwall, because on a clear night the night sky is studdied with stars. Dad was a deeply religous man. He read his bible every day and made sure that I said my prayers. For him the heavens truly declared the glory of God and he communicated that insight to me. Now years later I still go out on to the dunes and gaze up at the heavens. The sheer beauty and wonder of it brings tears to my eyes.
It was years later when I was strugglng with Hebrew at KCL that I realized the great significance of the Hebrew word YIRAH ( יראה) It occurs over 150 times in the Hebrew Scriptures; our Old Testament. Hebrew is a much more fluid language than either Greek of Latin. Yirah has two meanings: fear and awe. Both have very different interpretations.
There is the man who fears the Lord lest he be punished in his body, family or possessions. Another man fears the Lord because he is afraid of punishment in the life of the world to come. Both types are considered inferior in Hebrew tradition.
Job has got it right when he says – “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”He was not motivated in his piety by fear but rather by awe, by the grandeur of God’s eternal love.
Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good.
Awe on the other hand is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime experienced in the presence of mystery, of God, the universe and Infinity. Awe preceeds faith, its at the root of faith. In my experience we grow in awe in order to reach faith. Its the gateway to wisdom according to the Book of Proverbs. The awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ( Proverbs 1:7)
Verse 8 has a powerful resonance with me, it says – “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction. And do not forget your mother’s teaching. Indeed they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck.”
Modern man, as exemplified by Richard Dawkins, looks up at the heavens and seeing the immensity of the universe questions the existence of God. “the fool has said in his heart there is no God.”
On the other hand the man or woman with true wisdom is also moved by the immensity of the universe. But the response is very different.
“When I consider Thy heavens and the work of Thy fingers, the Moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man that thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty.” (Psalm 8)
God cares for man and the depth of that care is shown forth in Jesus.
” I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself.”
Far from minding, I am delighted that this excellent post has a wider audience 🙂