Remembering the Awe
I would like to ask you a question. Is it good or bad to feel fear? I would like to suggest that you cannot answer that with yes or no. The answer is rather that it depends. Especially when they were younger, our children with autism didn’t feel fear. I watched Logan run across a busy street right in front of cars. I watched Abby stand on the railing of a second story deck with no fear. We wished that they had more fear. But there are times when fear is not healthy. There have been times that I have wanted to do something, knew it was the right thing to do but came up against a barrier of fear. In those moments, I wished I had less fear.
What about fearing God? There was a time when a compliment would be, “He is a good, God-fearing man.” By that, we meant that the person had a healthy respect of God. But that at times moved into an unhealthy fear, seeing God as an abusive parent who could fly into a rage at any time. The pendulum has swung the other way and now we don’t talk about fearing God. Instead God is either our buddy or a kindly old grandpa. Nothing to fear.
Human views of God will change with the fashions but we need to focus on what the Bible says. And what the Bible says may surprise you.
Jesus Calms the Storm
The story we are looking at is one of the most popular miracle stories of Jesus. There is something about it that captures our imagination. The water in which the disciples were sailing was known for its sudden storms. While some of the disciples were experienced fishermen, they also knew how bad things could get. They probably knew people who had drowned in those very waters. We can see the dark clouds moving in quickly, the waves steadily rising. The boat gets pitched back and forth, it is looking really bad. And what is Jesus doing? He was sound asleep, resting comfortably on a cushion. Put yourself in the disciples’ position. How would you feel if you were fearing for your life while Jesus is enjoying a nice nap? Finally they couldn’t take it anymore and they woke him up. The disciples expressed their concern and Jesus responded by telling the wind and waves to stop. We need to pause for a moment. Jesus didn’t pray to the Father asking him to stop the storm, the way we might if we were in the same position. Jesus addressed the wind and waves directly and commanded under his own authority. It says that Jesus rebuked the storm. He then rebuked the disciples. Did they really think, after all that they had seen and experienced, that Jesus was going to let them drown?
Now the typical way to preach this story is for us to reflect on the storms in our life, how Jesus seems to be asleep but that we still need to trust that Jesus will calm our storms. I have preached that message before but I’m not going to do that this time. Instead I want to focus on what happens immediately after the miracle. The disciples move from fearing the storm to fearing Jesus.
Jesus Creates Awe
What is the picture of Jesus that you have in your head? Is it gentle Jesus holding a young child or petting a little lamb. Our concept of Jesus often about his tenderness. But there is more to Jesus than that.
After the miracle, the NIV says that the disciples were terrified. Terrified of what? There was no reason to fear the storm. They were terrified of Jesus. The NRSV says “they were filled with great awe.” That may be a better translation.
What do we mean by awe? It has a wide range of meanings. You may be in awe of my ability to tell puns. But if I revealed a Soviet-era nuclear bomb underneath the communion table, there would be awe of a different kind.
The word awful means full of awe. Originally it mean being in awe in both a positive and negative sense, You could be in awe of what a great crop there was or you could have been in awe of what a bad crop there was. Over time awful shifted to being just about the bad things. We have an awful headache or we have awful neighbours. But there was still this idea of being in awe of the good. That is how the word awesome developed. My child did awesome at school. That means something different than my child did awful in school. Technically, awful and awesome have the same meaning, but one is reserved for the good and one is reserved for the bad.
What about Jesus? Since Jesus just saved their lives, they were in awe in a good way. But they were still frightened. Healing a deaf person or a leper was one thing, but having the authority to command nature? The disciples ask, “Who is this?” That’s a good question. Who indeed could do such a thing.
They were in awe of Jesus, but it was more than just having respect. There are people I respect that I don’t fear. The Greek for this passage says that they feared a great fear. Repetition is used for emphasis. The Greek word is the one we get the word phobia. I have claustrophobia. When I watch television and I see a person trapped in a confined space, I have a physical reaction. I have acrophobia and when I imagine myself at the ceiling of this sanctuary, I experience vertigo.
The disciples feared Jesus, not because they thought he would hurt him but because they knew they were in the presence of great power. It’s the feeling that we might have if we stood right at Niagara Falls or near a nuclear reactor.
You may notice in your Bibles that there is some confusion about the ending of the Gospel of Mark. Everything after Mark 16:8 is a later addition. Most translations make note of this. Why was an ending added on? Because Mark 16:8 ends with “they were afraid.” That is no way to end a Gospel, especially after the resurrection of Jesus. So a better ending was added.
However, I would suggest that is the perfect way to end a Gospel that has just described the resurrection of Jesus. Death has just beed defeated! That is power that we need to be in awe of. It is literally an awesome event.
I want to conclude by asking if we have lost our sense of awe. I remember just over twenty-five years ago, having a dramatic answer to prayer. It really scared me because I felt seen and known by God. I knew God knew everything but now that everything included me. It led to a radical change in my life. But over time, I can get use to God. It’s time to sing another worship set, time to say certain prayers. I know God is there but I have gotten comfortable with his presence. I have lost the awe.
How do we remember the awe? It may be different for each of us. I would say be watchful for the things that God is doing in our world, our community and our life. Take a walk in nature. Make yourself available for a ministry in which you need to rely on God’s strength. Ask God to reveal what he is doing around you.
Don’t be afraid of God in the sense of seeing him as someone looking for any excuse to strike us dead. But regain the sense of awe, fear God in the sense of him being an awesome God. Remember who God is and what he has done in your life.