My sixteen-year old and I are laboring over chemistry together these days, and his textbook has decreed that we are not to move on to Chapter 5 until he is confident in balancing equations.
We’re not going anywhere right away, so . . .
We have spent this week with a printed worksheet of fifty chemical equations, working through them one-by-one, and we’re taking it slowly, because this is a boy who is hard-wired for a different kind of work. He needs the chemistry as a means to an end so we’re making every effort, but God has hard-wired this brown-eyed son for working with his hands.
Paul David Tripp, author of Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say and Do, is helping me to see that the human heart has been hard-wired for awe. We give ourselves to the worship of one thing after another — good things and some, maybe, not so good — but supplanting the One who made them all. The truth is that the only satisfactory object for our awe is God Himself. Looking for awe in other places results in a continual search.
The decisions we make about our lives are largely awe-driven. For example, if I live in awe of material things, I will work to acquire them, spend my time maintaining them, neglect other valuable things in the process, and still come away feeling empty. This misplaced awe, however, has a purpose. In the disappointment and frustration, my eyes will see that this lesser object of my awe is merely a road sign pointing me to the place where the awe of my heart should rest.
It follows, then, that much of what we struggle to overcome in the Christian life are not merely problems of addiction or discontent or dishonesty. We have a problem with misplaced awe. Adam and Eve got us off on the wrong foot in the Genesis 3 account of “awe gone wrong.” Although they had everything, they wanted more. Eve was transfixed with an awe of independent wisdom. Tracing the biblical narrative throughout history from their son Cain and on through Samson, Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, and even Jesus’ power-hungry disciples, it is clear that “awe of God is very quickly replaced by awe of self.”
God is in a battle for the awe of our hearts, and the story of the Gospel frames the lengths to which He was willing to go to recapture the hearts of humanity. But even safe in the Kingdom, the heart is not immune to waywardness. “If my heart is not given over to the worship of God, it will give itself to the worship of something else.”
One phrase from Psalm 145:4 changed the trajectory of Paul David Tripp’s ministry:
“One generation shall commend your works to another.”
He came to understand that the focus of ministry is to hold the glory of God’s works before His people in order to inspire awe of God in their hearts, and it’s a never-ending process, because even though we are hard-wired for awe, we are “awe amnesiacs.” Whatever the sin that plagues and beguiles, it can be diagnosed as an awe problem: debt, adultery, and gluttony are evidence that the sinner is “asking of things what you will only ever get from the God of glory, who alone can satisfy the searching heart.” Early in life, we reveal our sinful tendency to replace awe of the Creator with awe of something in the creation, (Romans 1:25). Vertical awe is, thereby, replaced with horizontal addiction.
Paul David Tripp examines his thesis from various angles, like turning a cut stone in the light:
- Viewed in light of humanity’s awe amnesia, the physical world becomes a God-given mnemonic to help us remember the grandeur and glory of the One who set it all in motion.
- Transgressions of the law become evidence of a heart that has not been captivated by God because “the seedbed for a life of obedience is awe.”
- Gathered worship of God’s people becomes an opportunity for the under-shepherd to “give people their awe back again.”
- Complaining reveals itself as “anti-praise,” deeply theological and moral evidence that the complainer questions the goodness of God, His intention to keep His promises, His sovereignty, His power, and His love.
The Christian life, then, is a continual process of awe reclamation. This is all of grace and is fueled by a right understanding of who God is. Tripp recommends regular immersion in “worldview literature,” passages such as Isaiah 40 that support a “heart-pounding, silence-inducing, worship-stimulating awe of God,” and therefore, place God as very powerful and wise and caring in the center of the universe. This spills over into how we parent, how we do church, how we view work, and ultimately how we view ourselves. Awe of God frees the believer from bondage to awe of lesser things and opens the door to a deep and abiding rest in the knowledge that our hearts will ultimately be satisfied in the “not yet” of eternity when we realize that every longing we ever knew was simply pointing toward the moment when we would see God face-to-face.
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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