“I praise you, [Lord], for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Psalm 139:14 (New Revised Standard Version)
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
What does it mean to live as people who are made, both fearfully and wonderfully? For many of us, I suspect, it does not take much to get in touch with the fear part. In the current climate of our society, fear is fueling much of our everyday lives in obvious ways. From our pandemic precautions to our political predicament, we are immersed in various manifestations of fear. Fear can be a very helpful and healthy thing, as it alerts us to danger and drives us to act in ways that overcome threats to life. Fear can also be a dangerous thing itself, when it stirs up hatred as a response to danger and drives us to act in ways that become threats to others. We are living in fearful times.
I am writing this on the week that contains both Martin Luther King’s birthday and the day when our nation’s President is inaugurated. Neither of these are automatically associated with fear. But this year, both of them were, because of the continuing incidents of racial hatred, including the recent sacking of the Capitol, and because of the poisonous politics that we have been perpetuating, fueled by a fear-mongering media feeding the deep-seated anxieties of people living in the midst of rapid change. All of this, as people are turning to the Church with less and less frequency and the Church is struggling to keep pace with new ways to effectively reach those same people.
Equally important, we are made for wonder. Wonder sees the world from a completely different angle from fear. Instead of seeking protection from danger, wonder embraces a challenge with a sense of fascination and awe. Instead of thinking about how we can keep our guard up, wonder thinks about how we can see what God is up to. Wonder opens us to perceive that there is more going on in us and in our world than what we see in the news media; wonder opens us to ponder how God is stirring things up in order to bring the world closer to God’s will and desire for goodness and mercy, where people do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. There is much in our world that is out of whack with God’s purposes, and God is still very much at work to save the world, to put it right. So, how is what we are living through in these tumultuous and troubling times part of God’s work? What is God doing in the midst of it all? Not that God has caused it, for there is much that happens that does not come from God’s heart or hand. The scriptures teach us that there are certainly other powers at work in the world, besides God. Still, God engages it all, the goodness that flows naturally from God, as well as the un-goodness that does not come from God. God engages it all, with a determination to undo that un-goodness and redeem it for God’s purposes. In the scriptures, this redemptive purpose unfolds through joys and sorrows, through plagues and peacefulness, through suffering and struggles, through fears and doubts, and through triumphs and truth, through faith and courage. Through it all, God is weaving God’s way through the messiness of this world. It is a wonder!
For me, it has been helpful to cultivate not so much the imagination of fear, though that comes easily enough, but to take time to ponder and marvel and cultivate the imagination of wonder, scripture-based wonder. At the Resurrection of Jesus, the women are said to respond with “fear and great joy,” (Matthew 28:8) or with “terror and amazement” (Mark 16:8). When God is breaking through, we can expect to experience both fear and wonder. This realization helps to ground my heart and soul in the peace that will never come from this world, but does indeed come from God. It leads me to “get it,” what St. Paul is saying in Philippians 4. In the midst of tremendous turmoil swirling around him, threatening his life and all he holds dear, with an imagination of wonder instead of fear, he says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
I know. I know. There are people who look at one another with great fear and even enmity who are saying that their hearts and minds belong to Jesus. I cannot figure it all out, and I do not need to figure it all out. But it does not need to stir up only fear. It also brings forth wonder, and a peace that Jesus has it all. In the company of the triune God, they are working it out. We can do our best to bear witness to what we are given to see with the eyes of our hearts illumined by faith. (Ephesians 1:18) I invite you to be on the lookout for God’s good purposes amid all of the troubles, and to stand firm in the love of Jesus, now as much as ever.
Grace and Peace,