C.S. Lewis on the Numinous:
Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words “Under it my genius is rebuked.” This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.
~The Problem of Pain, p. 17
I haven’t found a passage of writing that captures this well the nuances of the fear of God in Scripture. The concept is often easily misunderstood, especially when divorced from passages like 1 John 4:18, and Romans 8:1.
Calvin argued that this sense of reverence is essential for prayer. The Psalmist tells us that God’s grace is accompanied by this kind of fear:
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
What we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, “stuff” here including… promises, relationships we care about and our own well-being and other people’s… [You are] a being whose wants make no sense, don’t harmonize: whose desires deep down are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and you truly want not to at the very same time. You’re equipped, you realize, more for farce (or even tragedy) than happy endings… You’re human, and that’s where we live; that’s our normal experience. quoted in Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller
Spufford’s statement captures the element of disorder and confusion that is common to our experience but not easy to describe. My conception of sin- of how deeply I am flawed- needs to be grounded more concretely, however. My desires and loves are disordered, but what does order and virtue look like?
After reading this several times through I remembered a section of a sermon by John Piper. He asks, “What is sin?”:
It is the glory of God not honored, the holiness of God not reverenced, the greatness of God not admired, the power of God not praised, the truth of God not sought, the wisdom of God not esteemed, the beauty of God not treasured, the goodness of God not savored, the faithfulness of God not trusted, the commandments of God not obeyed, the justice of God not respected, the wrath of God not feared, the grace of God not cherished, the presence of God not prized, the person of God not loved. That is sin.
After reading these quotes alongside each other, I had quite a bit to think about today.
Hello friendly reader. I’ve been on hiatus and I’d like to hop back onto the train. I began working part-time as a pastoral assistant last fall and I’ve repeatedly told myself that I needed time to transition before picking up writing again.
Interestingly, we’re almost eight months into this and I still haven’t made time for it. I need to resurrect the discipline of writing because it was one of the few ways I could reliably organize my thinking. Teaching has always been rewarding for me in this respect, but the writing had a way of giving depth and breadth to my teaching that just hasn’t been there lately.
In some respects my writing here will probably reflect concerns and interests that are developing in my pastoral work. Much of my focus in that regard these days is on discipleship- how do we become (and in turn lead others to become) people who carefully observe the teaching of Christ in our thoughts and our actions?
So my writing on Christianity and Culture will hopefully reflect this commitment. My aim is to constructively challenge you, gentle reader. In keeping with this, your comments and criticism are welcome for our mutual encouragement. The peace of the Lord,
“What is a Poet? He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.”
~ William Wordsworth in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.