Week 1, Awe and Wonder
Awe and Wonder
From Psalm 19:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
One of the great joys I have each week is talking to my five-year-old nephew on the phone. One of the things I love about him (and most children I know) is his ability to be amazed. We live in a world that values experience, being able to anticipate, and understanding what someone else is saying. Those aren’t bad qualities, but sometimes it leaves us jaded or too sophisticated to say, “Wow!”, for both the height and depth of humanity.
In the movie Pretty Woman (a movie with very few preachable examples) there is this exchange:
Edward Lewis: It's just that very few people surprise me.
Vivian Ward: Well you're lucky. Most of 'em shock the hell out of me.
The texts today remind us of how to keep a sense of awe at God’s handiwork- not just “Wow!”, but “Wow! If God can do that, what else should I place in God’s hands?”
From Brian McLaren’s commentary on this chapter:
Chapter 1. Awe and Wonder
We face a great challenge as Christians today. The compositions in our biblical library took shape in a radically different context from our own. Not only that, but our theological systems through which we typically interpret the Bible - Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or Pentecostal - all rose in “the old universe.” “The new universe” is a conception of reality that has been revolutionized in just a few generations in at least seven key ways.
Astronomy - Thanks to Edwin Hubble and other astronomers, we understand ourselves to live in an ever-expanding universe where motion and change have been the norm since the singularity we call the Big Bang.
Cosmology - Thanks to cosmologists, geologists, and others, we understand ourselves to live in a 14.7 billion-year-old universe, in which life has only existed for a relatively short time, and our species has only been around for a blink of the eye.
Physics - Thanks to Einstein, Heisenberg, and others, we find ourselves in a universe where neither matter, energy, nor time are absolute, a universe of previously unimagined complexity in which uncertainty and mystery surround us.
Biology - Thanks to Darwin and Crick and others, we live and move in an evolving universe in which we are deeply related and connected to all living things by our DNA and our shared evolutionary history.
Neuropsychology - Thanks to researchers in medicine and especially brain studies, we wake up each day in a world in which souls/spirits and bodies can no longer be defined apart from one another, a world in which to be human is to be embodied.
Anthropology - Thanks to Richard Leakey, Rene Girard, and others, we see ourselves as members of human cultures that can trace their evolutionary roots back to Africa, our actual “Eden,” and we have come to see ourselves as evolving primates whose evolution is now cultural as well as biological.
Philosophy - Thanks to Thomas Kuhn, Nancy Murphy, Paul Ricoeur, Ken Wilbur, Steve McIntosh, and many others, we have come to see how we are constantly moving from one period of intellectual coherence into another, and so the assumption of a fixed and final philosophy has been abandoned.
Rather than trying to drag us back into the proto-astronomy, cosmology, physics, biology, neuropsychology, anthropology, and philosophy of the Bronze Age in which Genesis arose, and rather than trying to contain us in the modernist Enlightenment age in which the Bible was most recently re-interpreted, in this chapter I try to let the ancient creation narratives stand alongside our own today - in dialogue with each other.
I also try in this chapter to introduce a way of talking about God that is flexible rather than rigid, through phrases like, “God, whatever God is” and “God, the Creative Spirit,” and by presenting 13 various ways theologians and mystics describe the relationship between Creator and creation without needing to narrow the options to one.
For more on the idea that Genesis 1 describes the universe as a temple, with human beings the “image” of God within it, see John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP Academic, 2009) .
I hope the Genesis 1, Psalm 19, and Matthew 6 passages resonate with one another to convey the image of a caring and good Creator who loves and values creation, and whose glory is seen through it.
Many chapters that follow contain creative tensions that can engender lively conversation. This one contains very little tension, but hopefully it invites readers into a generous and appreciative space that will be hospitable for all.
What are your thoughts? I look forward to seeing your thoughts and questions in the comments section.