What is missing in contemporary American culture and religious life can be summed up in one word—reverence! We have lost our sense of reverence—for life, for humanity, for the mysteries of creation—for God! Unintentionally we have come to view faith and spirituality in practical, human terms. We have replaced mystery with expectation. We’ve been to the moon and have landed on Mars. We’ve been to the depths of the sea and have explored the intricacies of DNA, and we believe there is nothing that science cannot explain and that our technologies cannot master! So it’s hard to be amazed!
Reverence challenges our formulas and expectations and keeps us from thinking we know it all. Likewise it keeps us from sitting in judgment upon everything or everyone who is different from us.
Reverence prevents us from trying to answer every question and solve every riddle (but that’s not to say we shouldn’t try). The more we understand science, the more mysterious and awe-inspiring life is. Life is mysterious, overwhelming, and incredibly amazing because there is no end to what we can learn. If we think we’ve figured it out there’s a good chance we’ve lost our sense of reverence. Paul Woodruff says, “To forget that you are only human, to think you can act like a god—this is the opposite of reverence.” Barbara Brown Taylor expands on this by saying, “Reverence is the recognition of something greater than the self—something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding.”
Reverence occurs when we understand that we don’t understand; that our knowledge is imperfect and that we too are part of life’s mystery.
The problem with Christianity today is that it tries to answer every question, eradicate every sin and solve every mystery. If this were actually possible, there would be no need for wonder, reverence, or God.
Children have a sense of awe and wonder that’s contagious! How can they be so carefree? Maybe the less knowledge and experience we have the easier it is to dream and wonder. Years ago, I loved hearing my then seven year-old grandson say, “this is the best day of my whole life!” Could it be that this is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Unless you become like little children you will not enter into the kingdom of God?” Could it be that reverence is the fertilizer that keeps faith alive in a stilted, cynical world of irreverence? I don’t know, but in my own life I know how it feels to lose wonder. I have traveled through parched deserts of predictability and experienced seasons of dry, brittle cynicism. I know what it’s like to dread tomorrow, and I know how it feels to long for a sense of meaning and purpose.
So how do we lose reverence? As we mature into adulthood, what happens to the sense of wonder we knew when we were seven? Is it simply lost over time as we face life’s harsh realities, or do reach a point where we consciously choose to turn it off? I’m not sure, but I have known adults who have a reverence for life that make me thirst for what they have. Like Janice, a young woman I met years ago in St. Augustine, Florida. She and her husband lived on a sail boat—a tall masted sloop they had restored. As a new believer in Christ, Janice was filled with joy and wonder. Her connection with the sea and nature gave her a sense of reverence for the earth and its Creator. On several occasions I went to their boat to participate in a small group study time that focused on exploring life’s deeper questions.
I believe one way to keep reverence alive is to have a better understanding of what makes it die. Although no one intentionally sets out to kill it, reverence can die if we subject it to destructive habits and attitudes. Although many could be listed, here are five things that are especially harmful to reverence:
Five ways to kill reverence
1. Listen to talk radio – Media exposure of any kind will kill reverence if you get too much of it. Left and right wing radio talk show hosts are particularly harmful to reverence because of their constant criticism and vitriol. If you want reverence to die, keep listening.
2. Demonize and label the people you don’t like or agree with. It’s easier to hate someone with a label if you don’t know their real name. When you label a person as a sleaze or scumbag, you don’t have to think about the fact that they may be struggling with insecurities, have health issues, or be celebrating the birth of their first child. You can just hate them as faceless, nameless scumbags!
3. Refuse to acknowledge what you cannot control or understand. If you cannot control a person you don’t like, don’t acknowledge they exist. If you don’t like the message, denigrate the messenger. If you don’t like the news, create your own.
4. Limit your exposure to nature and the environment. If you let it, nature will fill you with a sense of wonder and awe. Who can look at the stars without being overwhelmed.
5. Limit your exposure to God’s Word. The Bible is filled with stories and passages that are difficult to understand. Why tax your brain with questions that cannot be answered.
Nothing short of a miracle and a heavenly vision is needed to fill us with the sense of awe and wonder that we need. When Jacob was forced to flee from the wrath of his brother Esau, he reached a point where he was totally discouraged and filled with the dread that even God was out to get him. It was then, in a barren, lonely spot, that God restored his hope as he slept. Jacob dreamed that he saw a ladder reach from heaven to the very spot where he lay. And angels were descending and ascending to minister healing to his broken heart. Eventually Jacob woke up and could hardly believe what he had seen. With amazement he said: “‘God is in this place—truly. And I didn’t even know it!’ He was terrified. He whispered in awe, ‘Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God’s House. This is the Gate of Heaven’” (Genesis 28:16, The Message).
Prayer – Dear God, I am in awe of you! Thank you for displaying your wonders for all to see! Give me a renewed sense of reverence for you, life and the earth!
Rich DuBose writes from Northern California.© 2002 - 2020, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.