They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee when the wind rises and waves swamp their boat. An exhausted Jesus needs to be wakened: “Teacher, don’t you care that we're about to die?” Jesus rebukes the raging squall: “Be quiet! Calm down!” The wind dies down and the lake stills. Jesus’ disciples, shaken by what they’ve just witnessed, look at each other: “Who is he?”
So here’s what I wonder – I wonder if we have a wonder problem. I mean wonder in terms of a sense of awe, especially in relation to Jesus, but the entire Trinity as well. It’s something I’ve been wondering about for some time.
We easily let the word Jesus slide off our tongues as if he were a pop celebrity or guru, maybe a name we dust off to prove a point. Sometimes we get sentimental about him, but I’m not convinced that’s the same as awe.
I read an article recently about awe. Apparently it’s good for one’s mental and physical health. There’s a lot of cutting edge research being done about awe.
Awe isn’t just important for our health, it’s important for our faith. We assume that we have to have faith in order to have awe. But what if it’s the other way around? What if allowing ourselves to feel awe is what makes faith possible and helps it grow? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul shares the following poem or hymn:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
This is Majesty, not just metaphysics. If it’s true... I’ll let you use your imagination.
Which, of course, we have to. We must imagine truth three dimensionally if our awe is to be aroused. Then, and only then, is real believing possible. Faith isn’t a formula. Faith is a conviction made possible through awe.
Many people are “deconstructing” their faith these days, including their faith in Jesus. The metaphor is telling. Doctrinal formulations can be deconstructed. Beliefing in Jesus can be deconstructed. But believing? Maybe. Maybe if we never managed to be swept off our feet by a gospel that can’t be reduced to a formula or definition. There are four tellings of this gospel, each entirely unique and also the same. The same Person and story from four different angles, each awe-inspiring in its own way. The fourth ends with this postlude: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Believing, not just beliefing.
There’s no question that awe can be quenched or prevented altogether: by doubts, familiarity and “Christianity.” Or we settle for a safe dose: a midnight mass on Christmas Eve, sitting in an empty cathedral, soaking in a sunset, allowing oneself to be moved by a hymn or a worship song. Nothing too unsettling – like Jesus calming the waves...or walking on them.