AWE AND WONDER

awe

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed”. (Albert Einstein)

Human beings have many peculiarities, one of them being the ability to be awestruck in wonder. Think of the many situations in life when you unexpectedly came across something that blew your mind- the expanse of the universe, the magnitude of nature, the colors of the seasons, a concert, the brilliance of an act, an impossible feat, a superlative construction and so on. Each time when you are filled with awe, it is a response to something that you could not have figured out or predicted. Awe and wonder lie in that mysterious interface between human possibility and impossibility.

The ability to wonder and feel awe is uniquely human and goes beyond natural instincts. Just imagine the meeting between a lion and a stag out in the jungle- will the lion look at the spectacular horns of the stag and marvel at the time it took to form them and the beautiful shape it projects? Likewise, will the stag look at the lion and wonder at the imposing mane of the lion and its muscular form? To the lion, the stag is nothing but lunch and for the stag, the only thought that comes to mind is to get out of there in a hurry.

Think of babies as they grow up- everything for them is an object of wonder and fascination as they see things, learn and interact with the world around them. They pound their parents with questions and in their innocence see the magical nature of the world around them. As we grow out of childhood however, we feel less the need for wonder and awe. And we are poorer because of it. Not only does man lose something so critical to his own existence, he becomes socially poor as well. Piff et al in a review write,

“A sense of wonder is what we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.————By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others. When experiencing awe, you may not, egocentrically speaking, feel like you’re at the center of the world anymore. By shifting attention toward larger entities and diminishing the emphasis on the individual self, we reasoned that awe would trigger tendencies to engage in prosocial behaviors that may be costly for you but that benefit and help others” (1)

 So what can be done to re-capture the lost gift of wonder and awe in life? Vacations, taking time to be with nature, concerts, cultivating relationships and hobbies and so on can without a doubt help one to experience awe and wonder. However, if one needs to experience awe on a continual basis, and in a way re-capture what we experienced as children while still being adults, we need the continual influence of God within our lives.

The reason why man needs awe is because he has been created to live in a subjugate relationship to God and only by such a relationship with God, experiencing him on a continual basis by faith in Christ and the presence of the indwelling Spirit can man once again be awestruck in wonder, at all times. The description of the early church in Acts 2:42,43 demonstrates how being filled with awe was as normal for a Christian as was teaching and fellowship.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were performed by the apostles.

No other song captures the essence of being in awe of God as well as the timeless song ‘How great thou art’ and here’s a rendition by Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill.

 

 

Reference 1: Piff PK, Dietze P, Feinberg M, Stancato DM, Keltner D. Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015 Jun;108(6):883-99.

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