This article is adapted from Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul David Tripp.
Hope Versus Panic
It is quite clear that your view of God will inescapably shape your perspective on your circumstances. In this way your theology is like a lens through which you examine life. This means you never come at your circumstances from some happy place of neutrality. You and I are always evaluating our situation from the vantage point of vertical awe or awelessness. In some way, we, like the children of Israel, are always asking and answering five deeply theological questions, and the way that we answer them will push us toward hope or panic.
1. Is God good?
Now you can rest assured that the goodness of God will confuse you. You see, what looks good from God’s perfect eternity-to-destiny perspective doesn’t always seem good to us at ground level. It is hard to accept that God knows better than we do. It is hard to admit that God can use difficulties for good in our lives. When it comes to what is good, it is very hard for us to stay on God’s agenda. And again the issue of awe lies at the heart of this. If I live at the center of my God-given capacity for awe—that is, if awe of self has replaced awe of God—then I will invariably conclude that God is not always good, and loads of complaints will follow.
If I am at the center, I will define good as what is comfortable, predictable, pleasurable, natural, and easy. The good life will be the easy life because awe of self will have replaced awe of God as the principal motivator of my life. So when difficulty comes my way, my default theological response will be to wonder why God is doing what he is doing and to question his goodness. In my early days of ministry, I was blown away by how many of the people whom I counseled were angry with God. I was amazed at how many people no longer assumed that God was good.
Now here’s what’s deadly about this. If you allow yourself to question God’s goodness, you will quit following his commands, and you will quit running to him for help because you will no longer rely on, follow, or seek the help of someone you no longer trust. But God is good. His goodness is the foundation stone of his awesome qualities. He never thinks, desires, says, or does what is evil. He is the definition of all that is good, right, and true. Everything he does is good in every way. His goodness is so bright and glorious it should leave us breathless, silent, and amazed. And if we are amazed at his goodness, we won’t panic in times of trouble, and we won’t refuse to do the hard things he calls us to do.
Does awe of God’s goodness interpret life for you? Or do the hardships of life cause you to question his goodness?
2. Will God do what he promised?
Few questions in life are more important than this one. Since we are all small and weak, since we never really know what is going to happen next, and since God calls us to do difficult, sacrificial things, we need to know that his promises are reliable. Will he be with us always? Will he give us everything we need? Will he forgive us no matter what? Will his love last forever? Will he stay with the work of his grace until that work is done? Will he provide the guidance and protection that we need? Will he?
God’s promises are meant to move and motivate us.
God’s promises are meant to move and motivate us. They are meant to instill hope. They are meant to give us courage. They are meant to defeat feelings of loneliness, inability, and fear. They are meant to give us peace when things around us are chaotic and confusing. God’s promises are meant to blow your mind and settle your heart. They are his gifts of grace to you. In your heart of hearts, you know you could never have earned the riches that he pours down on you. His promises are meant to leave you in awe of him and in wonder at the glory of his grace. His promises are designed to be the way that you interpret and make sense of your life.
Do you stand with hope and courage on the awesome promises of God? Or do you walk through the quicksand of questioning their reliability?
3. Is God in control?
Here is a fundamentally important place for your awe to rest. In some ways, all the other questions rest on this one. It would make no good difference in life if God didn’t rule the places that resist his goodness. God’s promises are only as trustworthy as the extent of his control. He can only guarantee that he will do something in the places where he has absolute control. What good is his almighty power if he lacks the authority to exercise it? It is of no comfort to know that God is in control if he does not rule over the circumstances where his care is essential. Yes, all the comfort of God’s awesome qualities rests on his sovereign control over every situation, location, and person.
But here’s the problem: at ground level, your world doesn’t look to be under careful and wise control. In fact, at times it seems totally out of control. This gets us right back to the same place we have been with each of these questions. Will you let your interpretation of circumstances tell you who God is, or will you allow God’s awesome revelation of himself to interpret your circumstances for you? You see, people who live in fear, who beat themselves up with way too many “what if” questions, or who have trouble turning off their minds when they go to bed don’t have a circumstances problem; they have an awe problem. You and I will only rest in situations over which we have no control if we are in awe of the One who controls them all for his glory and for our good.
People who have to be in control don’t first have a power problem; they have an awe problem, which produces power hunger. A lack of awe at the sovereignty of God causes them to try to establish personal peace and safety by means of personal control. What about you? Has your awe of God’s infinite sovereignty freed you from both fear and the need to be in control? Stay tuned... Part two will be published in a few days!