Archive for the ‘Words’ Category


Posted: November 8, 2009 by clairer in Awe, Words

It’s a word that is used every day so casually, it is hardly ever noticed.  A friend walks up and says that he just won free tickets to a concert.  “Awesome!” is the response.  A basketball player makes a game winning shot from past half-court.  “What an awesome play!” the announcers shout.  A child receives an A in her first spelling test.  “That’s awesome!” an enthusiastic dad says, smiling.  But while these things are enjoyable or even amazing, are they really awesome?

Because the word “awesome” is often defined as “inspiring awe,” an understanding of the word “awe” must also be established.  In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “awe” is defined as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.”

While the word “awesome” is a word often used in the younger generations, it is not in any way a new word.   One of the first instances of the word in literature would probably be in the Hebrew Bible when Jacob awakens from his dream saying, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17)  The word “awe” appears a total of 51 times in the Bible, but interestingly, despite all the heroic figures found in the Bible, the word “awe” is never used to describe people’s reaction to them (or anyone else), but only for God.

Throughout the Bible, God is praised for his “awesome deeds,” his “awesome name,” and his “awesome wonders.”  The Bible goes so far as to say, “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven.” (Job 25:2)

However, why is it that the Bible refers solely to God as one who inspires “awe?”  Is it even possible for a human to be “awesome” in any way?  The truth is, God is the only being who can qualify for the use of the word awe.  What other being can be described as inspiring fear and dread?  God’s wrath is a fearful thing and his power is amazing!  Who has supreme authority over the universe?  Who else is truly sacred or sublime?  When one considers it, there is no one other than God who could fit that description.

However, if there is no other thing, person, or act other than God and his works that could truly be described as “awesome,” why is it such a common word used to describe practically anything good these days?  The reason is that the depth of meaning to the word has been reduced over the decades, perhaps because our culture has lost a sense of the grandeur of God.  The word has come to be interchangeable with words like, “amazing,” “spectacular,” “grand,” “overwhelming,” “breathtaking,” “remarkable,” and “splendid” as any thesaurus would attest to.  However, these words are much less powerful  than the word “awesome.”  A catch at the outfield wall to preserve a pitcher’s perfect game might be described as “remarkable,” but does it inspire fear and dread?  Winning the lottery might be described as “spectacular,” but it is mere chance – what authority is there in that?  A new pop song may be described as “amazing,” but is it sacred?

The meaning of the word has been lost over the centuries, but to many, it makes little difference.  Many mindlessly continue to use the word to describe things unworthy of the word.  The problem is that many don’t understand what continuing to use the word to describe anything other than God and His works does.  By diluting the word, we actually diminish the praise that God rightfully deserves.  If people begin to use the word casually to describe everyday events, there is no room in their minds for the even greater awesomeness of God.   Do they liken God’s awesomeness to a good movie?  To a good day?  While using the word “awesome” in an ordinary way would not be considered a sin (as the use of God’s name in vain is), people have become unaware of what they are saying.  As the word “awesome” is weakened, so people’s perceptions of God’s glory become reduced.

So next time that word, “Awesome!” slips from your lips, ask yourself a question: is it really?