Rightly used, language comes with a power to maneuver the focus of man. Wrongly used, language has the power to create conflict and catastrophe. Each word comes preloaded with declination, definition, and dominion. This is why importance should be ascribed to the process of word choice. Because the words we use come with authority, it should automatically necessitate caution in composition, not merely in our own composition, but in attention to the composition of others.
For myself, I find it important to pay attention to the word usage of others. While recognizing the evolution of definitions, I confess there are times I find the word choice by some appalling (although more often than not, I try to give grace knowing that not everyone shares the same mindset). There are times through, when I am disturbed enough to analyze it at a deeper level. That has been the case with the word awesome.
Even at a younger age, its usage in a misapplied context resulting in fabricated enthusiasm was tormenting to my linguistic sensitivities. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized why that word in particular impacted me more than others. The extended use of awesome has become so vast that it was meaningless.
The word awesome is readily used at nearly every circumstance. Overuse stripped awesome of its incredible power of creating awe. If everything is awesome than nothing is awesome. Consider the following: from the first verse, Scripture inspires awe with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). One cannot help to reading those words without being filled with wonder and amazement, resulting in one saying, ‘That is awesome.’ Yet that same phrase is used to describe someone’s new wallpaper (whether it be in the home or on the computer). Thus, to describe them both as awesome removes all meaning of the word and makes them equal. I assure you though, only one of these is truly awe inspiring, as the word awesome means.
First used in the late 16th century, the word was used to indicate reverent fear and just a few years later into the 17th century, the word was amplified to indicate being filled with wonder. Moses speaks of fear in his writing in Deuteronomy 6:13, stating, “Fear Yahweh your God, worship Him, and take your oaths in His name.” This type of fear causes one to tremble in reverence for the holiness of the Lord. There is only one person who is worthy to be feared at such a level: the Lord. Note how the verse places fear and worship side by side. Awe of the Lord, fear of the Lord should cause us to do nothing less than worship Him as we are overcome with the wonders of His attributes and actions. Yet we are no longer in awe of our Lord, therefore we no longer honor our Lord.
Some will ask, ‘Does this really matter?’ It’s a legitimate question, but let me turn it around ask you this: ‘Have you ever considered what that reveals about the human heart?’ At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, I would you tell you that it provides a clear demonstration of sin.
While we can attribute our desensitization to the awe of God to many factors, they can be summed up in two points:
- Science-Sufficiency: Science is advancing at a rapid speed. The depths of the ocean are searchable while the outermost star is now reachable. No longer is there a need to sit and wonder; instead one simply enters a phrase in google to find all the information he or she wants on any topic. The amount of information we have causes people to elevate themselves above all of creation. No longer is there a need for God, because we have science (although in reality science and God should not be in conflict).
- Self-Sufficiency: Failing to consider God as creator and revealer, man sees himself as the initiator and keeper of information. According to the perspective of science, man is responsible for his own well-being. This mindset continues to permeate throughout, causing self-sufficiency to be the driving cause of so many of man’s attitudes. It has pushed God far from our thoughts.
While no person would ever confess that man possesses all knowledge available, most think they pretty much have most things figured out. They can provide you an answer for every question. It does not matter if that answer is true or provable, only that he or she thinks that it is true. The result of this is an insurmountable level of pride that results in a sufficiency found outside of God.
I return then to my original question, “Why does this matter?” Because the causes show that our awe of God has been replaced with our awe of man. There is a lesson to be learned from the Psalmist who writes in Psalm 8:3-4:
When I observer Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You set in place,
what man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?
With far less ‘understanding’ and ‘knowledge’ about the natural world, David knew enough to recognize the magnificence of what he was looking at and it resulted in praise to God. When was the last time you considered creation from a standpoint of wonder?
It’s fascinating to think that humans are only capable of what God allows them. Science, reason, and logic are gifts, even more, they are gifts given at God’s discretion. Yet, these very tools given by God are the justification for man’s denial of God. Considering everything to be the result of man’s own ability and capability, we are more prone to be overwhelmed by man’s ambition and underwhelmed by God’s initiation. However, if we weren’t so underwhelmed by God, we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by life.