For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord? What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord? The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne.
(Psalms 89:6-7 NLT)
I began my career in Information Technology (IT) by learning to write computer programs in a language known as COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language). Rumor has it that recent archaeological discoveries suggest this language may have originated in the Jurassic period, but that has not yet been confirmed.
According to Wikipedia, “COBOL has an English-like syntax, which was designed to be self-documenting and highly readable. However, it is verbose and uses over 300 reserved words.” Simply put, these reserved words had special meaning and were, therefore, off limits to COBOL programmers. Words like START, STOP, TRUE, FALSE – and 296 others – could not be used by programmers.
Western culture has been dumbing down the English language for decades. One of my favorite movies, National Treasure, confirms this assertion in a scene where the treasure-hunting lead character, Benjamin Franklin Gates, and his sidekick, Riley Poole, visit the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to view the display of the Declaration of Independence. Faced with the conundrum of how to prevent someone else from stealing the Declaration, Ben is inspired to steal it himself in an effort to preserve it from the would-be thieves. But he also wants to examine the back of the document to reveal what he believes will be a clue that will lead him to the greatest treasure of all time. As he and Riley gaze upon the historic document, reflecting upon its treatise, Ben reads aloud the last sentence of the preamble, which he asserts is at the heart of all the ideas that became the United States:
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
He then says pensively, “People don’t talk that way anymore.”
We certainly don’t.
English vocabulary is a rich treasure trove, but increasingly fewer people today are capable of stringing together two or more sentences without using idioms, slang, or describing nearly everything as awesome. Consider this hypothetical illustration, which will likely resemble something you’ve either heard or said:
“Dude, I took my kids to Holiday World yesterday and it was totally awesome. Perfect weather; they had free sodas throughout the park, and we rode all the major coasters about three times. It was so awesome. Oh, and on the way home, we stopped at this super-amazing ice cream Shoppe, and we all got these awesome cones – they were doing two dips for the price of one. Man, I’m telling you it was one of the most awesome days of my life. It blows me away how awesome God is.”
<Insert sound of record needle being dragged across vinyl>
I’ll admit to exaggerating the use of the word awesome a teensy bit, but not so much as to significantly distort present cultural reality. The problem here is that our hypothetical parent has just equated the awesomeness of God to: Holiday World, free sodas, amusement park rides, and ice cream cones.
Such rhetoric is not only trite, it’s tiresome. It’s prosaic and problematic, considering its potential disrespect to the Lord.
In my blog Inch Deep, Mile Wide, I encourage people to put meaningful thought into what they post on social media rather than primarily posting things with little or no substance. Similarly, I’d like to caution against profaning (i.e. making common) the glory, splendor, and genuinely awesome majesty of the Lord through the misuse or overuse of words that (IMHO) should be primarily reserved for God alone. The following passages from Job lend support to this notion, giving us ample reason to measure our use of the word awesome when describing trivial things:
2 Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
as it rolls from his mouth.
3 It rolls across the heavens,
and his lightning flashes in every direction.
4 Then comes the roaring of the thunder—
the tremendous voice of his majesty.
He does not restrain it when he speaks.
5 God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.
Job 37:2-5 (NLT)
11 Doesn’t his majesty terrify you?
Doesn’t your fear of him overwhelm you?
12 Your platitudes are as valuable as ashes.
Job 13:11-12a (NLT)
The word platitude aptly describes the prevailing zeitgeist of our cultural overuse of the word awesome. Dictionary.com defines platitude as a noun meaning:
For those who may think I don’t understand that most people use the word awesome in its slang form, making it synonymous with its slang cousin cool, let me assure you I absolutely do recognize this. That’s actually the point I’m trying to make. There is nothing fresh or profound in our platitudinal and perfunctory overuse of this word. Therefore, describing as awesome both that which is ordinary and God who hangs the earth on nothing is . . . well, you do the math.
The first of Euclid’s five axioms states: “Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” So if God is awesome and Holiday World, free sodas, amusement park rides, and ice cream cones are also awesome, then these worldly elements are equal to God? That math simply does not work; and whereas you may disagree with me, I find such an equating to be not only mathematically flawed but also lacking in reverence for the Lord. And I’m being about as gentle as possible in making this point.
The truth is: when we say, “God, you are so awesome,” we might as well be saying, “God, you are so cool.” And if that is your view of God, then I encourage you to read your Bible more closely in order to develop a healthier fear of God and gain a proper perspective of the Creator of all things, the crucified and risen Savior of the world, and the King of kings and Lord of lords who will one day return to earth clothed in a robe dipped in blood with a sharp sword proceeding from His mouth.
To further inform our understanding of what is truly awesome, let us consider this reflection by the writer of Hebrews on the Israelites’ reaction to God’s descending upon Mt. Sinai two months after their exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 19 for the full account):
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given. . . . Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
Hebrews 12:18-21 (ESV)
Think about it. God’s voice was so AWESOME that the people literally begged for Him to stop speaking. Even Moses, a man to whom the glory of God was revealed, quaked with fear at the spectacle.
Lest I belabor this topic any further, I will leave you to contemplate one last verse from scripture along with an axiom of my own:
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:28-29 (ESV)
Contrary to what The Lego Movie would have us believe, everything is not awesome. For if everything is awesome, then nothing is awesome – not even God.