The Wonder of It All

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Wondering

My family and I have lived in five different states over the past seventeen years: Georgia, Kentucky, Colorado, Wyoming, and now South Carolina. During that time there have been a few constants, things that we always find in every place that we live. First, we usually find the local library. We are a family of voracious readers and within the first week or so of moving to a new place, everyone has a library card. When we can’t find what we are looking for at the library, we find bookstores – used, new, Salvation Army or Goodwill – we find places to get books. And finally, we find all the museums, zoos, and aquariums in the area and normally end up with season passes.

While we were in Colorado Springs, our family got an annual pass to the Denver Museum of Natural History. Since the kids were homeschooled, we took trips during the week on less busy days and usually had the museum to ourselves. We had the chance to see all the standard exhibits about dinosaurs, native cultures, and animals from across the region as well as several special traveling exhibits like the Sherlock Holmes exhibit.

For some people, that may or may not sound like much fun, but for us, it’s heaven. We love the opportunity to learn but more than that, we love to revel in the wonder of it. Whether it’s a great book that carries us off to places we may never go or places that may never exist, staring up into the starry expanse of a planetarium, or wandering through an exhibit about peoples that once walked where we walk now, there is a sense of awe and amazement that comes with exploring these things and seeking to understanding them.

My personal favorite was an exhibit we saw after we had moved to Wyoming. The Denver Museum was given the opportunity to present the Dead Sea Scrolls.  We were able to take a trip back in time to see coins, pottery, architecture and of course, the scrolls themselves, most dating from the second century BCE to the second century CE.  It was a fascinating exhibit and it reminded me of one of the reasons that I have continued in ministry, even when things were difficult: The Wonder of It All.

No matter how difficult my circumstances have been or how easy they have seemed to be I have always maintained, to varying degrees, a sense of wonder, awe, and amazement about the person and work of God from the first spoken words of Creation to the myriad of words spoken now about God to this day. And I don’t think that I am alone. Consider the great classical works of art, music, and literature and you find yourself looking at statues and frescos of the patriarchs, hearing symphonies and oratorios to celebrate the life of Christ, and reading stories and parables of the work of God in creation.

A Psalm of wonder

Wonder is simply a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.[1] For the Hebrew people, this takes on the meaning of a special display of God’s power.[2] Psalm 48 is one such work of literature within the scriptures that speak to this wonder. Known as a song of Zion, this hymn is one whose subject is the importance and meaning of Jerusalem to the Jewish people.[3] For the Israelite people, The Lord is the stronghold within Jerusalem. God is in its fortifications, revealing himself as a place of safety, declares the psalmist. It is not the city itself that is important, but that God has chosen the city as the place where God has chosen to dwell on earth.[4] The city is holy not because of any moral greatness on its own but because it is set aside as the place where God has come to meet man.[5] The temple is the focus of this worship and connection to God, the visible sign of God’s commitment to his people, evidence that they can tangibly address in their worship of God and a reminder that they are the people of God.[6] We dwell on your faithful love, God, in your temple. This liturgy/hymn is performed within your temple” (v. 9) and is punctuated by “we/our” confessions (vv. 1, 8, 14), perhaps sung by a choir on behalf of the congregation.[7] Knowing these things about the kind of psalm this is, I would like to look at some things that point to the idea of wonder within this passage.

A refuge of wonder

Another thing I do when our family has moved to a new place is set up my office at church and at home. A great deal of my time is spent within the walls of those two places, reading, studying, pondering. But more than that, it is a place of wonder. In those two places, I find myself digging through the histories and experiences of others who have encountered God over the centuries. As I read and write and pray through and with those I encounter in the pages I read, I find the awe and wonder of God in their stories and experience it in my own.

For those who came to worship God in Jerusalem, the Temple becomes a refuge of wonder, a place where wonder is accepted and encouraged. His holy mountain is a beautiful summit, the joy of the whole world. Mount Zion, in the far north, is the city of the great king. God is in its fortifications, revealing himself as a place of safety… Walk around Zion; go all the way around it; count its towers. Examine its defenses closely; tour its fortifications so that you may tell future generations: “This is God, our God, forever and always! He is the one who will lead us even to the very end. These words of the psalms are an invitation to those who come to worship God to consider the greatness of God in his temple, in his city, and marvel, wonder at his greatness.

This, I believe, is also an invitation to us. That we too consider God, not in a Jerusalem Temple but in Spirit and in Truth and with us here in our daily life. When speaking of worship with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus tells her that true worship is not to be found in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim – the place Samaritans worshiped God following their understanding of the example of Jacob. Jesus tells her, But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.  What Jesus is telling her is that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, there will be no need for going anywhere to experience the awe and wonder of God’s presence. We who seek to be in it will find it and will know it as we know our own selves through the gift of the Spirit.

Wondering as a lifestyle

The point of all this is for the hearer of the psalm to meditate, to stand in wonder and awe of the unfailing love of God, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we do so, we will find a natural response begin to surface, the response of praise. Consider the psalms in general, what are they? They are the response of praise to an encounter between the writer and the God they have been in the presence of. For each of us, there is the unending possibility, through the Holy Spirit, of encountering God. In fact, for those of us who follow the Way of Jesus, it should not be a possibility, it should be a certainty. The presence of God in our lives should be such that we should be constantly encountering it. If we live as Paul admonishes and we pray without ceasing,[8] we will find that being a people of awe and wonder of the works and presence of God is second nature. If we are truly what we claim, the way we live will be an example to others of living from one display or God’s power to another.

Are you a person who wonders? If so, wonder on. If not, what are you waiting for? The God we live in wonder of lives within us through the Holy Spirit to show us the surprise and admiration, born out of the beauty, the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and the inexplicable of our relationship with him.


 

[1] “Wonder,” Google Dictionary, Accessed 07.05.2018, https://www.google.com/search?q=Dictionary#dobs=wonder

[2] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001), p. 68

[3] Mays, James L., Psalms: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p. 188

[4] Mays, p. 189

[5] Broyles, Craig C., Psalms – Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), p. 217

[6] Mays, 190

[7] Broyles, 217

[8] 2 Thessalonians 5:17

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