They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. Psalm 145:6
Awesome and Enthusiasm are two buzz words that are commonly bantered about back and forth in our modern society. This is especially true in the business world where it is “awesome” to hit your daily quota or sales goals for the month; and in order to achieve this objective you must be filled with “enthusiasm” for your employer. To quote the former Green Bay Packers legendary coach Vince Lombardi “If you are not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm”. I don’t disagree entirely with the reality of the modern use and view of these words, as I frequently use them in the same context myself. I mean come on’, I lead a team in retail banking and I do need this kind of “enthusiasm” from my associates and it is “awesome” when we hit our numbers. However, what if we took away the context of post-modernism and peeled away the layers of western influence? What if we took these words “awesome” and “enthusiasm” back to their Biblical perspective? Once we begin to dig a little deeper, many might be surprised to learn of the theological weight and depth associated with these words that many of us use weekly, if not daily as a part of our regular vocabulary without a second thought.
The word Awesome has all but lost its original scope and depth as a definition for something which is “profoundly reverent or that which inspires awe”. I would say that the majority of events that are connected with its use today are neither that “profound” or “inspiring”. An example of the word awesome used in this fashion would be “I went to Chick-fil-a today and they gave me a free chicken sandwich” “Wow dude, that’s awesome!”. The word Enthusiasm is generally equated with being motivated or ecstatic about something. A common example of how this word is used today might be “John, as a part of your career development, I would like to see you show more enthusiasm during our team meetings and when we have a team contest”. The famous 19th Century writer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm”. To the Emerson quote I say an enthusiastically Amen! Hopefully, you will too after some additional insight into what is so awesome about the greater meaning of these two words.
I have been reading a couple of different books simultaneously that I believe compliment each other well; God In Search Of Man – A Philosophy of Judaism by Dr. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Messianic Judaism – A Modern Movement With An Ancient Past by Dr. David H. Stern. This post in part is a continuation of a series (albeit a slow one:-) in which I am going through God In Search Of Man chapter by chapter. You can read other posts in this series here; Beyond the Mystery, Being is Mysterious, A Legacy of Wonder, The Sublime, Ways to His Presence, Philosophy and Religion and God in Search of Man Part I. This post draws heavily from Chapter 7 of God In Search Of Man, with some additional insight provided by Stern around the word enthusiasm.
I will begin with what Stern notes about the word “enthusiasm”, which will in turn set the tone and backdrop to what makes this so “awesome”. Stern notes that the word Enthusiasm comes from the Greek en (in) and theos (God). Enthusiasm therefore literally means to; be in God and have God in you. That bit of info brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “filled with enthusiasm”! Maybe the next time someone in a “secular” setting brings this word up, you could use this info as a great conversation starter about what this means to you. Stern says that when you are in relationship with the God of the Bible and He in you, as His Word promises, then you will surely find yourself enthused in the most ultimate sense. Stern goes on to say that God’s answer to Man’s ultimate questions such as “Is there meaning to life?” and “Does my existence really matter?” is an enthusiastically charged Yes when we are aware and a part of this relationship.
“The loss of Awe is the great block to insight” – Abraham Joshua Heschel
From what I gather, Heschel believes that in order to get to the deeper and spiritual meaning of enthusiasm, we must understand What?, Why? and most importantly Who? it is that is doing this “filling up”. As the quote above alludes to, without Awe, there is no Awesome. I will let Professor Heschel take it from here for a few minutes and give us a broader view that could lead to us regaining this Awe and in turn being able to understand that which is Awesome.
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. Deuteronomy 10:17
Heschel begins this chapter by stating that “all reality is involved in the will and thought of God, he who wants to understand the world must seek to understand God.” But how do we do this? What is the way of understanding Him?
Heschel says that practical wisdom can availeth much, but human wisdom comes up short when confronted with the mysteries of nature and history. He says that some people may regard wisdom as “an uncommon degree of common sense.” I know that many people, myself included, like to think of themselves as somewhat within this “common sense” realm because we suppose we know a little about a lot of subjects. We may be able to navigate and structure our “wisdom” in a way that makes us look and sound “wise” until we get to the ultimate questions of “What is this life really about?” and “Why does it matter?”. Human wisdom in and of itself ultimately leads to despair or agnosticism when confronted with ultimate questions because all of its answers are grounded in uncertainty – they are finite by nature; human nature that is. In comparison to the Atheist or Agnostic though, the Bible doesn’t convey the message of “we don’t know”, but “God understands the way to it”. What is unknown or concealed to us is known and open to God. Heschel says that “true wisdom is participation in the wisdom of God.” For the Biblical man, “wisdom is the ability to look at all things from the point of view of God, sympathy with the divine pathos, the identification of the will with the will of God.”
So what is this way to ultimate meaning and wisdom? It is our relationship with God. Heschel says that that relationship begins with awe, which he defines as “an act of insight into a meaning greater than ourselves.” This “act of insight” and “meaning greater than ourselves” is where we begin to get a wider glimpse at the word Awesome and its meaning.
And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” Nehemiah 1:5
Heschel says that Awe is a way of being in rapport with the mystery of all reality. The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in “the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence. Not only man; even inanimate things stand in relation to the Creator. The secret of every being is the divine care and concern that are invested in it.”
What Heschel says here is profound and yet so simple that we almost certainly miss the insight of it every waking hour of the day. With every single person we come into contact with everyday and with every step our feet take we have the opportunity to enter this insight which leads to this awesome experience. Heschel says that this “mystery” is not a synonym for the unknown but rather a name for that which stands in relation to God. Awe is “an intuition for the creaturley dignity of all things and their preciousness to God; a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something absolute.”
Heschel relates an expression of awe in an example from Maimonides:
“…any man who wishes to be a true “man of God” must awake to the fact that the great King who constantly protects him and is near to him is mightier than anyone……that King and constant guardian is the spirit emanated upon us which is the bond between us and God.”
This example of Awe by Maimonides sounds like it could be commentary on a number of Apostolic (New Testament) writings which depict the Holy Spirit as God (King) and yet also as our “guardian” and “bond between us and God”. According to Maimonides, the awesomeness that the “man of God” realizes is being “awake” to the fact that God is the great sovereign King of his existence.
And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear (yirah) of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:28
The fear (yirah) of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7
Heschel says that according to the Bible, one of the prime religious virtues is yirah. Yirah is a Hebrew word which can mean fear and awe. Heschel says that the Biblical man is not motivated by fear in the sense of God punishing him in this world or the next, but rather by awe, by the realization of the grandeur of God’s eternal love. Heschel defines fear as the “anticipation and expectation of evil or pain.” He contrasts this with hope, which he defines as the “anticipation of good” and Awe, which he says is the “antithesis of fear”. Heschel states that Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but, on the contrary, draws us near to it. Heschel believes that Awe precedes faith because it is at the root of faith. Heschel states that for this reason, Awe rather than faith is the cardinal attitude of the religious Jew. He says that in Biblical language the religious man is not called a “believer” which is undoubtably the most popular term in use today, but Yare HaShem (One who stands in Awe of God).
Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. Psalm 66:5
For the Christian or Messianic Jew, our personal and corporate relationship to God is through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. It is in this relationship that we find “a meaning greater than ourselves”. It is through this relationship in Yeshua that we are all collectively “One who stands in Awe of God”. That the God of eternity would humble Himself and take on flesh to walk among us is Awesome! That He would suffer with great pain and sorrow, even unto death on our behalf is Awesome! That He would do all of this because of His immense grace and love for humanity and creation is Awesome! That He would provide a new and living relationship with Himself through Yeshua the Messiah in communion with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is Awesome! That through His resurrection He has proved mightier than death itself is Awesome! That He has deposited in all of us this “anticipation of good” which is the resurrection of all who trust in Him is Awesome! That He will complete the work he started in us no matter what is Awesome and should fill us with more than enough enthusiasm to “run the race that is set before us”!
“Who is like you, ADONAI, among the mighty? Who is like you, sublime in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” Exodus 15:11
May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!