We are awed by something or someone that inspires “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder” in us. God is the ultimate subject of awe. He reveals himself in scripture as dwelling in unapproachable light, mighty in battle, the creator and therefore sovereign of all. He is clothed in majesty, holding the oceans in his hand while numbering every grain of sand. God gives each of us the capacity for awe. This is the only way that we can truly see him.
Every true act of worship is an exercise in amazement.
He gives us this sense of wonder in the same way that you give a stargazer a telescope. God bestows wonder on people in order to equip them to worship him. Every true act of worship is an exercise in amazement. We were created with built-in capacities to take in the majesty of the Rift Valley, the burst of tastes on our palate at tasting good food, and the burst of colours in the twinkling stars. As the psalmist declares: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).
Applying our attention, we are to labour and appropriate all good things in creation as staircases that lead us up to a sight of the God who made them. As C. S. Lewis put it, the pleasures of this world “are shafts of (God’s) glory as it strikes our sensibility.” We are to continually see how the roar of the thunder is patterned after God’s power, how the burst of colour of the bird’s feathers is a micro-imitation of God’s beauty and how the inescapable reality of the sun’s light points to the uninhibited rule of God over all.
One of the Greatest Threats to Awe
As God’s people, we must protect our sense of awe. We cultivate it that it may grow to take in more of God in the scriptures and in creation. In doing this, we in turn become eloquent pointers to the true source of soul ravishing awe to a world that is in dire need of it. Our sense of awe, however, can be shrunken, redirected, or rendered ineffective through distraction. Few things are as effective in strangling your sense of awe like social media. Social media stifles our capacity to gaze in wonder.
Social media stifles our capacity to gaze in wonder.
To aid this God-given capacity for awe, we must be wary of the ways that the world in general and social media in particular redirects and shrinks our awe. Awe presumes attention. When we are awed by someone, we are fully taken in. All our senses are tuned to one object. It is not so much that we are consuming something but rather that we are consumed.
However, as numerous studies have shown, social media gradually but surely impairs our ability to pay attention. While awe requires undivided attention, social media thrives on distracted attention. To be amazed by God we must dwell on his words and his works. On the other hand, social media seeks to deliver wonder through cursory views and quick takes. One delivers a life transforming, soul satisfying settled reverence. The other a fleeting vapour that only creates a craving for more of the same. One is fresh water from the fountain that satisfies, the other salty water that creates more thirst.
Manage Your Wonder
Awe, like a balloon, expands and shrinks to take the size of its subject. Our amazement at God is meant to gradually increase as we get to know God more and perceive more of his excellencies. We will never be able to fully figure God out, to enfold him within our understanding. And therefore, we will spend our lives, now and in eternity beholding greater vistas of the glory of God and the capacities of our amazement increased and our worship deepened.
We will spend our lives, now and in eternity beholding greater vistas of the glory of God.
If this is true, then social media’s irreverent reduction of everything into trifles to laugh about slowly trains you to reduce everything into small funny chunks. Consequently, our capacities to contemplate and take in God’s majestic grandeur seen in creation and Scripture are diminished. Our collective imagination as a society, originally meant to be humbled by the greatness of God in scripture, conversation and creation, is now stifled into the small box of the funny cat video.
While there may be a place for that, the ubiquity of smartphones and affordable internet have erased any possibility of the cat video being a minority of our experience. This is now the primary activity. The meteoric rise of one Chinese social media platform, TikTok, attests to this.
Don’t Waste Your Awe
Awe, like a balloon, expands and shrinks to take the size of its subject.
We are increasingly surrendering our agency to an algorithm that displays content that requires nothing of us except a humph of the nostrils in approval. This is in contrast to what we were created for. Yet as a generation, we are slowly but surely having our gaze and contemplation turned away from the God-installed wonder inviters and being turned towards the wonder-stifling loops.
If the soul shrinks or expands to the size of what it contemplates, then it should not surprise us that our hearts are shrinking.