Saturday, March 31, 2018

a sense of wonder

Austin, TX
This winter, my city received an unexpected snowfall.  An exciting event since the last time it happened was over a decade ago.  What made it even more special was that this snow was not predicted.  It caught the whole city unexpectedly, unpredictably, and completely by surprise.  The snow began falling around 4:30 pm and continued until about 8:30 pm. It wasn’t just any snow, but the kind that falls in big fluffy flakes, that you try to catch on your tongue.  As you’re driving, it swirls and falls from the sky and it looks like you are watching the beginning credits from the Star Wars movie in front of your car window. 

When it began I was sitting in the hair salon, having my hair colored, (do not judge) when all the technicians went outside to see the snowfall.  Imagine, me in a chair, hair foiled and watching them mass exodus out into the parking lot.  As the technicians looked up at the snow, some tried to catch it, and others twirled in its presence.  Many exclaimed that this was the first time that they had even encountered snow.  And, then it hit me. There was no escaping what we were experiencing.  It was a sense of awe - a sense of wonder.  
That evening, parents allowed their children to stay up and play in it.  They let them go sledding, build snowpersons and be a part of this wonderful exciting unexpected event as Austin went from a city scene to a winter wonderland in a few short hours. 

It amazes me, as I sit on a plane now half way around the world, how snow can take a normal day, and turn it into something extraordinary.  I was more amazed by the snowfall in Austin than I am about being able to travel half way around the world by plane.   How quickly we get over our amazement, our wonder, and our awe?  We cease our ability to wonder when we think we understand something.

In today’s language, we use the word wonder to describe a feeling of amazement and admiration.  We use it to describe something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.  Wonder creates emotions, which are excited by novelty, the sight or mind of something new, unusual, strange, great, extraordinary, and not well understood.  Wonder commands the attention by its grandeur and inexplicableness.

Throughout Scripture, God’s use of the word wonder means something totally different.  While generally it means to be surpassing or extraordinary, the Hebrew word for wonder, pala, indicates something deeper than just an uncommon event or something out of the ordinary.  It reflects a phenomenon, which is lying outside the realm of human explanation; it is that which is separated from the normal course of events.  It cannot be explained. It has to do with what we see, what we perceive to be true, and what we try desperately in our humanness to understand.  While wonder is in front of me, and I see it, and I cannot deny that it is happening or that it has happened, for I have witnessed it.  Just as the snowfall this week was incredible, it once again caused me to reach out and grasp pala…. something extraordinary

Pala is found in both biblical and modern Hebrew.  It occurs some 70 times in the Old Testament. The first time we see the Hebrew word pala it is used in Genesis 18:14, when God replies to Sarah’s laughing about having a son in her old age.  He simply says,  “…. Is anything too hard for the Lord?”   This pala translates as - is anything to marvelous, wonderful, surpassing, extraordinary, hard or difficult for Him?

When the world pala is used, it is primarily with God as its subject expressing actions that are beyond the boundaries of human powers or expectations. Wonder is chiefly a miraculous work.  In the Gospels, the feeling of wonder is drawn out by the marvelous displays of Christ’s power and wisdom.  In Isaiah 9:6, Jesus bears the titles of Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Wonder points us towards God’s anointed as He continues the marvelous acts of God. 

Wonder is often indescribable.  It is an attribute of God, such as His holiness.  This divine title shows us the very nature of God.  He is the miracle-working counselor.  He is able to do what no one else can do. Isaiah 28:29 says, “the Lord’s counsel is wonderful and His wisdom is great.” Exodus 15:11 claims, “Who is like you, O Lord…majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders.”

Messiah as counselor can be hard to understand. The Hebrew language gives us a pictorial image of king giving counsel to his people.  Specifically this biblical idea of counsel involves both careful listening and clear advising by someone who is wise and really knows how to live.  According to Isaiah 9:6, Jesus is amazing and strong.  He brings wholeness and completion, as well as friendship between man and God…forever.  His wonderful counsel comes through Him.  It is who He is.

So what should our response to wonder be?  We should be just like the city of Austin as it was captured with the snowfall.  We should be in total awe.  Standing in the swirling flakes and when His grace catches us off guard, we should understand that we have just witnessed a small part of His glory. According to Scripture, “many are Your wonders, which You have done”.  They are too numerous to count.  Even the heavens praise Your wonders. Wonder is our only response to God’s acts of judgment and redemption of man.  May we stand in awe and wonder before our God.