I often wonder if the greatest problem facing the modern world is the loss of wonder.
When we were kids, every day brought awe and wonder.
- Our first trip to the zoo thrilled us with the marvelous, long-necked giraffe, the barrel-shaped hippopotamus (even the name hippopotamus was enchanting), and the shuffling, tuxedo-clad penguin.
- Our first treehouse (make of cast-off two by fours and a shipping pallet) filled us with delight.
- Our first bike trip around the block without a parent was an unparalleled adventure.
As teenagers, we grew jaded. We’d already been to the zoo. “Big deal!” We’d already taken our bike on a weekend camping trip. “Who cares!”
We’ve lost our wonder.
Then science came along and stole the scraps of wonder that remained. Science dissected the human body and explained the spirit with soul-less indifference. In describing the human heart, one scientist wrote,
In reality there are no such things as human rights…. All we know is we are part of nature and there is no scientific basis whatsoever for thinking we are better than all the rest of it…. We have no more basic rights than viruses. (Robert Jarvic)
Ironically—or perhaps not—Jarvic is the inventor of the artificial heart. (The only wonder left is that people believe his kind of crap.)
But science wasn’t the only thief
Early Christianity exploded upon Rome largely because of wonder: downtrodden slaves delighted in the wonder of freedom; oppressed minorities were astounded at the wonder of inclusion; widows, orphans, and the poor awakened to the wonder of Hope.
But like jaded teenagers, modern Christianity has lost the sense of wonder.
Preaching today teaches wearisome to-do lists or humdrum abstractions. Conservatives teach us to be moral, and Liberals tell us to tolerate. I recently heard two sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit. The Conservative pastor concluded, “Don’t be selfish;” and the Liberal exhorted, “Go out and Coexist.”
Hardly awe-inspiring, certainly not the wonder that grew the early church.
Imagine telling an oppressed Roman slave, “I have incredible news that will rock your world: “Quit thinking about yourself!” Or the Liberal version, “I know your master beats and oppresses you, but I offer hope: “Tolerate those who differ!”
Neither Conservatives nor Liberals preach wonder anymore. And then we wonder why the world finds our services so dreary. (Don’t we?)
Our approach to doctrine doesn’t do it either
Abstract, impersonal doctrines fail as well. So much is detached, merely informational. I once heard a sermon that conjugated the Greek verb agape. It was technically correct. Like good little freshman, we took notes. We would have aced a blue-book exam.
And our lives were untouched. At the end of the sermon I wanted to shout, “So what!”
Imagine a childless widow in the Roman Empire, with barely two pennies to rub together. We preach, “I have a hope that will transform your poverty into riches: Here is the conjugation of agape.” Argh! Abstractions didn’t change the Roman world. Wonder did.
Frankly, cerebral Christianity gives me a headache.
So what did Jesus do that was different?
The preaching of Jesus always went beyond mere to-do lists and deeper than graduate level philosophy. No one was ever bored.
When Jesus taught morality, the listeners were astounded (Matt. 19:25) and when Jesus taught doctrine, the listeners were scandalized (John 6:61).
Nobody said, “So what!” nor asked, “What does this have to do with my life?” They may have disliked his message, they often were angry; but Jesus always left them wondering.
The heresy of wonder-less theology
Addressing the will (moralism) produces bored Pharisees. Addressing the intellect (abstract doctrine) creates heart-detached eggheads. Awakening the heart with wonder births humble believers. Wonder leads to adoration. Adoration leads to worship of the One who gave up all for the joy of knowing us. And worship creates humility
Only wonder will change our hearts. Only wonder replaces our artificial hearts of stone.
Near the end of The Lord of the Rings, Éowyn faces a hulking, Goliath-like Nazgûl. It threatens to, “bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.”
Éowyn responds, “Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.”
Merry, the little Hobbit, sees Éowyn ready to die out of love for her king, and, “Pity filled his heart and great wonder, and suddenly the slow-kindled courage of his race awoke. He clenched his fist.”
That is what we need, “great wonder.” When we see Jesus not simply dying but dying for us—even as we disobey his commands and disbelieve his truth—then our hearts will awaken. In wonder, we’ll clench our fists….
I wonder what true wonder would awaken in us. It’s sure to be wonderful.
Question: What wonders are awakening in you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.