“Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days, you would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared. Their justice and authority originate with themselves.” Habakkuk 1:5-7
The church today is imperiled by what it thinks it understands. Most preaching focuses on explaining something and often neglects to admit the things that cannot be explained. We are dwellers in the land of explanations. Sadly, in my university days, I thought I had answers for you know not what. I’m concerned that we are no longer struck by the wonder and mystery of God and His revelation of grace. We have descriptions and definitions for everything theological, as well as approved pigeonholes assigned for each item. Where has our God-given sense of wonder gone? Children can squat and stare at a flower or insect with an imaginative interest that I hope will never be lost. But studies show that a child’s creativity, which includes imagination and wonder, diminish by 90% between the ages of 5-7 years. Interestingly, that’s when they start to attend school. Our wonder begins to leave us when we start to learn about our scientific world where there is a recipe for everything. God is replaced with a formula. Success is guaranteed if you only follow the prescribed steps or colour within the lines. There is an explanation for everything!
What is wonder? Many words cluster around the idea of wonder: amazement, surprise, astonishment, bewilderment, admiration, awe, and fascination. In Isaiah 9:6 we read…”His name shall be called Wonderful…” The word ‘wonderful’ in this verse means ‘to distinguish, to separate.’ It carries the idea of that which is unique, distinguished by difference. True wonder is not a passing emotion or some kind of shallow excitement. It has depth to it, it reaches right into your heart and mind and shakes you up! Wonder is not cheap amusement that brings a smile to your face. It is an encounter with reality, with God – that brings awe to your heart. You are overwhelmed with an emotion that is a mixture of gratitude, adoration, reverence, fear, and love. You are not looking for explanations, you are lost in the wonder of God.
Some people have the idea that wonder is born of ignorance. The unlearned primitive tribal person is frightened, then fascinated by the digital camera or the airplane; while the educated tourist takes both for granted. But wonder is not born of ignorance, it is born of knowledge. The more a truly reverent person knows about a flower or rock or an insect or God, the more overwhelmed he is! Facts may give some a big head, but truths give to the seeking saint a burning heart, a thrilling encounter with God. This is the paradox of Christian worship. We seek to see the invisible, to know the unknowable, to comprehend the incomprehensible, and to experience the eternal! Like David, we thirst after God and we are both satisfied and dissatisfied. Like Moses, we cry out for His glory, all the while knowing that our mortal eyes could never behold God’s glory in all it fullness. Like Peter, we wrestle with a tension within: we want to follow Him, and yet we cry out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
The answer for us is not to abandon the precious truths that have been mined from Scriptures over the centuries. If anything, we need to dig again the old wells and drink from them! But we must not filter the living water through our bland systems and rob it of its power! We need a return to wonder. We need a new emphasis on the mystery of things. For all of his great understanding of Scripture, the Apostle Paul never lost his sense of the wonder and mystery of the faith. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33). Paul wrote that after he had penned three profound chapters on the sovereignty of God. When we learn to move as Paul did from theology to doxology, we will have taken a giant step toward the recovering of mystery and wonder in worship. The place to begin is with the wonder of wonder itself.
What a thrilling thing it is that you and I, made in the image of God, can participate in wonder! As long as we maintain a childlike spirit and an attitude of humility that says, “Why have you chosen me Lord?” Then we can grow in our sense of wonder. The world within and without becomes aglow with the excitement of – the wonder of it all.
“What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” Psalm 8:4