Fearfully and Wonderfully

6 May

“It was you, O God, who made my inmost self, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Psalm 139:13-14

These two verses appeared today in a devotional resource I use to begin and end each day.  I’ve read them many times, but this morning two words forced me to pause and reflect:  fearfully and wonderfully.  What?  What do those words mean to a person living in the 21st century?

My guess is that if I asked five people to share their understanding or interpretation of the words, I would get five varied responses…maybe more.  What did the Psalmist have in mind when “fearfully and wonderfully” went onto the page?

Fearfully is the harder of the two.  How about these possibilities:  God was “fearful” when humankind was constructed because God knew the possibility, or even the probability, that we would wander off on our own, become self-focused, cross the line of obedience.  Or, maybe fear was built into the final product so that you and I could experience the full range of human emotions.  Or, it was designed into us so that we would recognize danger or trouble and take two steps back.  There must be other possibilities for the strange word…I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Wonderfully, on the other hand, is commonly thought to mean that we humans are constructed with amazing, complex, intricate magnificence.  We are the top of the totem pole, the crown of creation.  The human body is a marvel that no human can replicate.  Wonderfully made, indeed.

So, with this in mind, let me offer two observations.  First, language changes over time; words from one century might not fit exactly into another century.  Second, sometimes it’s interesting to take words at face value.  For instance, “fearfully” might mean “full of fear”, which would lead you back to paragraph three above.  But remember that the word fear in the bible, particularly in reference to God, really means “awe”.  To fear God is to hold God in awe.  Quite a difference.  Fear’s companion, Wonder, is astonishment and a deep desire to comprehend, quest, search, know.

Here, then, is my own conclusion.  To be “fearfully and wonderfully made” is to possess the inherent ingredients of awe and wonder, built-in traits that come with the whole package.  I disagree with my dictionary when it says that awe is “profound and reverent dread of the supernatural”.  Dread?  Really?  I think the human capacity to stand in awe and to live in wonder has little to do with how one approaches the supernatural, God, but how you and I can experience life itself.  Within this complex construction called “me” there is the potential to receive each day in awe, reverent respect; and in wonder, which for me is amazement and sacred surprise.

Awe stops me in my tracks and makes me gasp.  Wonder moves me to ask questions of and seek relationship with this mystery.  Together, they sit me down on a big rock along the mountain trail and remind me to be “awe-fully” grateful and “wonder-fully” connected to creation.

Works for me.


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