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.
Oh, Sam, I hope you have not lost your wonder. I am filled with wonder every day of the week: when I think about how He love me, ME, who is not worthy. When I think about how Jesus suffered through the horrible crucifixion so that my sins could be forgiven and I will live forever with Him in a place filled with such beauty that I cannot even imagine it. Wonder when I heard my son say, “Mother, it’s beautiful!” two days after he passed. The beauty of our worshipful singing in church fills me with wonder. The beauty I see in this world He created for us fills me with wonder. If you’ve lost your wonder, Sam, I’ll pray that you find it again.
Pray for all of us! Thanks. And, as you say, the cure is meditating on the cross, the wonder of beauty dying for the beast.
Amazing post there are so many quotables here in this post, it is hard to pick one that I like the best. However I do believe that this quote speaks loudest to why we lose our 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….”
The problem is that we are teaching this next quote of yours. “Imagine telling an oppressed Roman slave, “I have incredible news that will rock your world: “Quit thinking about yourself!”” So we end up with a message that because it does not recognize our failures or says it is not about a growing awareness of our sin also does not recognize cannot fully “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height,” of the passionate love of God which always makes this quote true “Frankly, cerebral Christianity gives me a headache.”
Thanks for challenging e to teach better and live truer.
I still believe the perennial temptation for Christians is to abandon the wonder of the gospel and sink back into the tedium of religion.
We have to guard our hearts.
Amen! The only question I would leave is “why do we lose our wonder?”
To that I would reecho that we lose our wonder when we talk about how everyone else is abusing, being ungrateful for, and being irresponsible with God’s grace but the one who stares at us when we brush our teeth. After, all if we are hot steaming on fire Christians what’s not to love and we would never dare not abuse or be ungrateful for or be irresponsible with the gospel of grace so why would it amaze us that it is given to us. Now, everyone else indeed look at them, it truly is a wonder.
Bravo, Sam. I
especially appreciated the irony in the Robert Jarvis quote. It is not science per se that dispels wonder,
but the denial of the God who has built wonder into the creation. Even when Jarvis denied the presence of cosmological
wonder, he affirmed the wonder of human value when he developed the artificial heart.
This morning I just read a quote by Einstein: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” We need not fear science, but science need not reject God.
Sam, Thank you for this. I find myself needing to let go of a lot of moral teaching and doctrine. It seldom guides my path in life. It overwhelms me, and yes, “scandalizes” me into self-judging. When I’m overwhelmed I have sometimes found wonderment in the fog of being overwhelmed. It can be like the abstractness I experience when I meditate on God. The wonderment can be very freeing, and can open our hearts to the special things God has for us.
Excellent; “wonderment in the fog of being overwhelmed.” Love it.
OK, this is wonderful (no pun intended.) Thank you, Sam.
You remind me of the story of a man trying to get another man to laugh. He told him ten puns to crack a smile.
I think, this is what is regarded in the Bible as christians being luke-warm. If we are fired-up and are the salt of the world, the light… then it is not possible not to awake any emotions in other people-good or bad ones. If we are careful not to upset anyone- then we start being lukewarm and stop being fiery- we stop bringing up emotions in people. I think we sometimes choose to be lukewarm, cause its easier. Then you dont risk being rejected, hated AND LOVED: cause love hurts, and love is action. It demands from us, that we give something to somebody, whether or not it suits us that very moment- so it can be uncomfortable. we somehow try to avoid this…
About wonder- I had a very hard childhood if viewed from one side and a wonderful one, viewed from another. And I think, that I would not have noticed the wonders, if everything would have been fine on the other hand (if my parents would have raised me, If my mother and grandfather would have been healthy, if we had a bit more money with grandmother to buy not only the very essentials….a.s.o) I stopped seeing wonder, when my life started to be “good” by human standards-Thankfully Jesus came again, woke me up and showed me- the good way of living in the way humans mostly see it, it is actually so wrong…I am totally amazed! Amazed every day, that Jesus loved me enough to come and find me again! He, who could have easelly just forgotten about me!!! I mattered to Him!!! That speaks LOVE!
Absolutely! Wonder lights a fire under us luke-warm beings.
Isn’t wonder something that needs to be waked up in adults? I’m sure there are people who are naturally wired for it, but it also seems perfectly natural that wonder (which I think has some things in common with surprise) might become harder to evoke as we gain experience, as experiences repeat themselves and expectations develop. It’s all quite natural, isn’t it? I think an active relationship with God wakes it up, though, because if you cooperate with him, he humbles you.
Wonder requires perspective. You have to see that you are in the presence of things greater than yourself. In order to be awestruck, you have to perceive that a thing is beyond your power or your deserving or your comprehension… things like that. And you have to be looking and open. You have to be awake.
To tell you the truth, being in my 50’s I feel like appreciation and gratitude and wonder (all related, yes?) are being awakened in me quite late.
But I absolutely maintain that subject matter has nothing to do with wonder. For every scientist whose world has been “demystified” through discovering the mechanics of something, there is another who’s been humbled and awed by exactly the same discovery. Wonder is in the disposition of the heart.
For my part, some of the things I’ve glimpsed when ferreting out the nuances of a Greek verb with my Bible on one hand and my lexicon on the other have knocked my socks off.
I think you captured it perfectly. We have to see we are in the presence of things greater than ourselves, something beyond our power, deserving, and comprehension.
Thanks for the reminder, Sam – to wonder is to be alive. “With all thy getting, get understanding” from Proverbs and always quoted by Malcomb Forbes in the “Thoughts’ section of his magazine – we are commanded to wonder. Without it we are just sheep enjoying the grass and not thinking about the truck where they’re starting to load the flock. No wonder in you and you’re dead long before you stop breathing.
Keep going, Sam – I’m wondering where you’ll go next.
Great line, “they’re starting to load the flock.” Yikes.
Sam, you did it again! Now I wonder what the Lord has in store for me/us today! Can’t wait to find out!
Yeah, I “wonder” too–wondering with an awe-filled anticipation.
At least I hope to wonder. Sometimes I just blow it and wait with bored un-seeing.
One of your best Posts. Sometimes I get caught up in “why” I’m wondering about a subject. Then I realize, Knock-Knock, that very well may be God trying to get my attention. In todays geo-political whirlwind, I simply would like an honest answer as to ‘what’s going on.” Until then, I’ll keep trusting God and Jesus Christ, and let others who don’t have a relationship with Christ-yet- keep wondering.
So here is what struck me by your comment, “God may be trying to get my attention.” It reminded me of Moses and the burning bush.
The burning bush was a cause for wonderment (right?), and Moses “went over” to look at it more. I think God uses wonder–just as you said–to get our attention, to say he is speaking, and to get us to listen.
Great thoughts. My question is: What is our burning bush right now?
Thank you. Thank you very much. Well written. I’m a social worker in a foreign country. My wife and I are raising three children. I often wonder what kind of world my grandchildren will be raised in. I can remember being mildly amazed at the event of cell phones and the internet, but being the nature boy that I am I saw where that was headed and I have always had an aversion to Tech. One of my daily battles is to keep my wife and kids off it long enough to spend time together as a family. No one wants to go outside anymore. No one wants to play board games. No one wants to take time to feed their spirit. And with all the wonder of “unlimited information at our fingertips” we have indeed lost our sense of wonder. We have settled for the second rate “virtual” and have lost the “real” – and we think it’s a fair trade. Tech is killing our enthusiasm for life – changing our perspective on life – changing our system of values. Hopefully there are households and communities concerned enough to unplug their wifis and put away their TVs and computers and climb a mountain or sit and talk over tea and crumpets and make God – the source of wonder – the center of our lives.
Excellent response! Thank you.
G. K. Chesterton once said, “Meaninglessness comes not from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure.” And that’s what media gives us, too much “pleasure” which is meaningless.