Thursday, January 15, 2009

Awesomeness - Really

  1. "Dude, that was an awesome movie we saw last night!"
  2. "Hey, you want to go get a burger? Really? Awesome!"
  3. "Oh thanks so much for helping out. You're awesome!"
  4. "Wow, I love that kind of pizza. It's awesome."
  5. "Wasn't that an awesome worship service?"
OK, so here's the test. Which of the above would you consider a proper usage of the much-overused term awesome? Anyone? Because, you know, all these are phrases that you probably hear (and maybe even say) every day. So are any of them a correct use of the term awesome? Well in my opinion, none of them are.

Let's start this little diatribe with a Webster's definition of the word awesome: 1. Causing awe; appalling; awful; as, an awesome sight. 2. Expressive of awe or terror. OK, so there we have it. To possess awesomeness, something has to be capable of causing fear. Not just any fear but terror, dread, appalling. For something to be awesome it must be awful, provoking a sense of terror, fear, an awful feeling in the pit of the stomach. So consider the all too-common uses of the term enumerated above. Does this definition fit, any of them? Is it appropriate? Not so much.

Whenever we overuse and abuse words like this, we inevitably lose their sense of real meaning. Now, I'm not just talking about the garden variety Valley Girl usage of the term, as in "totally awesome, dude!" I'm talking about the sentences above being uttered by adults, by people who are well educated and good communicators. But still affected by this loss of real meaning of a word like this due to overuse.

So then, what is an appropriate use of the term? A search of the Scriptural use of the term "awesome" gives a good indication. The term appears 31 times in the Bible (NASB), and all of them in the OT. And every instance of the use of the word (except for two in the Song of Songs - but that's a different discussion) are referring to Yahweh God in one way or another. Either directly describing Him as awesome, or applying the term to His deeds, His presence, His name, or His day of judgment. And the Hebrew word most often translated as awesome is ירא - also translated directly as "fear" another 100 times. To the Biblical writers, there was only one thing that was worthy of being called awesome, capable of creating terror - the Lord God of Israel Himself.

I think it's time we recaptured use of this term in its Biblical sense. It seems that we have lost much of our sense of fear and awe of God. Instead of contemplating Him as being sovereign, omnipotent, wrathful and glorious, we focus on His humility, His love, His grace. And we begin to worship a god of our own making, one that isn't terrifying, one that isn't awesome. And so then anything can be awesome. A pizza, a movie, whatever. There's only one terrifying and terrific God. Let's reserve our sense of awesomeness for Him, and Him alone.

He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name. - Psalm 111:9

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