I wonder sometimes if the greatest problem facing the modern church is a lack of wonder.
When we were kids, all kinds of experiences brought wonder. Our first trip to the zoo filled us with wonder. The stick-figured, long-necked giraffe was fantastic; the bloated barrel-shaped hippopotamus was delightful (even the name hippopotamus was enchanting); and the shuffling, tuxedo-clad penguin was wonderful.
As teenagers, we became jaded; we lost our wonder. We’d already been to the zoo. “Big deal!” We’d already learned to ride a bike. “Who cares!”
Science comes along and steals more wonder. It takes the human body, dissects it, and “explains” life with cold, clinical detachment. In talking about the meaning of life, 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, Inventor of the artificial heart)
That’ll really get you up in the morning, won’t it?
The church and wonder
In the Roman Empire, Christianity grew largely through wonder. Downtrodden slaves were given the wonder of Sonship; oppressed minorities were shown the wonder of Freedom; widows, orphans, and the poor were offered the wonder of Hope.
Like jaded teenagers, though, the modern church has lost its sense of wonder.
Most preaching today teaches moralism or abstract doctrine. (And like the chicken and the egg, we’re not sure which comes first.) Conservatives teach us to be good little boys and girls, and Liberals preach tolerance. I recently heard two sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit. The Conservative pastor concluded with, “Go out and be good;” and the Liberal ended with, “Go out and Coexist.”
This is not the preaching that grew the early church. Imagine telling an oppressed Roman slave, “I have incredible news that will revolutionize the rest of your life: Just don’t be selfish!” Or the Liberal version, “I know your master oppresses you, but I have something that will rock your world: Tolerate those who differ from you!”
Neither Conservatives nor Liberals preach wonder anymore. And then we “wonder” why the church has so little impact on the world around us.
Abstract, impersonal doctrine fails as well. So much is theoretical or informational. I once heard a sermon that conjugated the Greek verb agape. It was technically correct. We took notes like good little students. If tested, we would have answered correctly.
And at the end of the sermon I wanted to say, “So what!” and to ask, “What does that have to do with my life?”
Imagine a first-century, childless widow with barely two pennies to rub together. We say, “I have a something that will transform your poverty into riches: Here is the conjugation of agape.” No! Abstract theory didn’t change the Roman world.
Frankly, cerebral Christianity gives me a headache.
So what did Jesus do that was different?
The preaching of Jesus always went beyond mere morality or abstract theory. 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 did they ask, “What does this have to do with my life?” They may not have liked it, they may have been angry; but Jesus always left them wondering.
Sure, but heresy?
Addressing the Will (moralism) produces proud Pharisees. Addressing the Intellect (abstract doctrine) establishes arrogant eggheads. Awakening the heart with wonder creates humble believers. Wonder leads to adoration, and 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 behavior, our beliefs, and our hearts.
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 for another but for us—even as we disobey his commands and disbelieve his truth—then we will wonder. In our wonder, we’ll clench our fists, we’ll find belief in our hearts, and we’ll delight to do his will.
So what came first, the chicken or the egg? Neither. It was great wonder.
(See also, The Wonder of the Ascension.)
© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart. All rights reserved.