“Only God Is Awesome!” … Really?

Awesome

Words

I believe in using words properly. In fact, I’m kind of a stickler for it (just ask any of my friends). Words have meaning, and we ought to apply meaning appropriately. It bugs me when people use words incorrectly.

That said, it bugs me even more when people actually insist upon a misguided use for a word. Worse yet is when that misguided effort is based on a misapplication of Scripture. Such is the case with the effort by many Christians to “reclaim” the word awesome for God alone.

Before I go too far, let me say that I know the intentions behind this effort are pure. Many of my closest friends have made such a claim, and this post is in no way meant as an attack against them. The desire to give God the glory in all things is absolutely right, and I do not wish to hinder that at all. However, I do not believe God has claimed exclusive rights to the word awesome any more than he has claimed great, amazing, excellent, or any other such synonyms. While these descriptors are completely true of God, they are not exclusive to him.

Defining Awesome

Let’s start by defining awesome. According to Merriam-Webster, awesome means “expressive of awe” or “inspiring awe.” And according to the same, awe is “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.”

So by the strict definition, anything that inspires such an emotion is awesome. But we should not be as concerned with the modern English use of the word as we are with the biblical use thereof. There is one verse in particular that is frequently cited in support of this position.

Context

Dominion and awe belong to God. (Job 25:2, NIV)

This serves as a great lesson in reading Scripture with context. The above verse was spoken by Bildad the Shuhite as part of his discourse with Job. If we continue reading to the end of the book, we see that Yahweh rebuked Bildad (as well as Eliphaz and Zophar) for what they said. “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me” (Job 42:7, NIV).

Obviously, that does not mean that everything spoken by the three was entirely wrong. In fact, much of it seems to be correct but misapplied information. However, it does mean that we should not automatically take anything spoken by them as scriptural truth. But let’s continue assuming, for the sake of this exercise, that this particular statement of Bildad’s is totally accurate (as I believe it is).

Notice that he did not say, “Dominion and awe belong exclusively to God.” Nor could such be true. We know that God himself granted dominion to man in many areas. For example, the same Hebrew word for dominion is used in Deuteronomy 15:6, where Yahweh blessed the Israelites to “rule over many nations.” Certainly, the very highest level of dominion does belong to God, but he does also allow man a lesser portion of dominion.

Applying Awesome

In like manner, awe does in fact belong to God more so than to anything else, but it is not true that nothing else is at all capable of inspiring awe. The Hebrew word here translated “awe” (elsewhere translated “fear” or “dread”) is also applied to Isaac (Genesis 31:53), Moses (Deuteronomy 2:25), the Israelites (Deuteronomy 11:25), David (1 Chronicles 14:17), the Jews (Esther 8:17), and Mordecai (Esther 9:3). There are many other words translated “awe” or “awesome” in various English versions of the Bible, and you will find that each one of them is applied to things or people. The Bible does not use such words exclusively for God, so we should not either.

Furthermore, it is quite unreasonable to claim that God is awesome but his works are not. We would not say that a man is a great painter unless his paintings were also great. Nor would we call someone an amazing musician if he did not produce amazing music. Likewise, we ought not say that our God is an awesome God without acknowledging his awesome creation. I don’t know how a man could examine the glory-declaring heavens and not be struck with awe—awe for God as well as awe at the work of his hands.

There’s no doubt that awesome has been abused in today’s culture. The latest movie, video game, or car is not really awesome. However, the beauty and intricacy of God’s creation is awesome. The destructive power of wind and water is awesome. Acts of Spirit-filled love are awesome. Family is awesome. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Conclusion

Yes, God deserves far greater awe than anyone or anything else, but this does not mean than nothing else is awesome.

What Do You Think?

Have you been guilty of using the word awesome carelessly? Have you ever told someone that “only God is awesome”? Will you still continue to do so? What are some other things that truly are awesome?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.

[Update: I wrote a followup—“10 Things That Are Awesome (According to the Bible)”]