Behold! Awe

Behold! Awe

Behold! Awe.

There are some individual words and short phrases in Scripture that need to be highlighted as they are read, words or phrases that are significant or point to something meaningful. Some phrases might be: Fear not. Here I am. Woe to you. One another. And maybe some words are: Amen. Hallelujah. Blessed. Abba. Come. The word Behold! is one of those significant words, an exclamation that is intended to get our attention. Listen, people, this is something you need to hear! Behold says to the audience, Look at this and take note! You would be wise to remember these words and think about them! Careful now, don’t be deaf to what I am about to say! Stop what you’re doing and listen up! As the Eastern Orthodox say before they read the Gospel in the Liturgy… Attend! The following verse begins with Behold! So the words that follow must be important.

“Then Job answered the Lord… ‘Behold! I am unworthy, I am insignificant and of small account. How can I reply to You? How could I answer You? I am speechless, in awe – Words fail me. I should never have opened my mouth. I will cover my mouth with my hands.” (Job 40:3-4).

We all know about our worst fears: heights, public speaking, snakes, darkness, failure. But what is our best fear? The best fear of believers down through history is not a thing but a Person… God. Biblical fear certainly includes the knocking of knees and shortage of breath of honest fearfulness, but there’s more to the story.

Godly fear in Scripture also includes the raised hands of adoration; the bare feet of awe; a shiver of hopeful joy; a peaceful sigh of contentment; a humbled spirit overcome with devotion; a focused mind poised to listen and obey; a heart filled with a mixture of reverence, relief and wonder. This is what the ancients called “holy dread,” and it serves to keep us honest and careful as we acknowledge our place before an almighty, inscrutable God. In this state of  healthy fear, our tendency to domesticate the holy and righteous Lord would be unthinkable. Our relationship to the Omnipotent would not be foolishly limited to a casual, sentimental Buddy System with Jesus.

Job has an important message for God, so he says to Him, Behold! Please hear me on this! I have waited and waited in this state of suffering for You to appear before me and explain Yourself. You finally have come, and I am overwhelmed. You are the divine Creator, You rule over the world, You know everything. And I know nothing next to You. My words all this time have been frivolous in the face of Your glory and power. How could I possibly answer Your profound questions? I am in awe of Your knowledge and Your wisdom. You are eternally beyond me, You are marvelously vast in your scope. Any words that I could offer are mere drops in the ocean compared to Your unsearchable knowledge. I don’t need Your answers now, God, for You have given me Yourself. and that’s all the answer I need. I bend my knees and close my mouth and offer You worship and devotion. I know You can do anything, and nothing can stop You. I humble myself before You, God, and I repent of my ignorance. I can do nothing now but kneel in awe of Your presence and Your power. Behold! Do not be deaf to the words of my heart.

Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a package tour of the Absolute? On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”  (Annie Dillard, An Expedition to the Pole).