The use of the word awesome
The word “awesome” is often used very loosely in our society. You hear people describe a beautiful bunch of flowers, a delicious meal, an exciting holiday, among others, as awesome. But little is understood of the word itself. Webster defines awe as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime,” and awesome is “expressive of awe.” When used in the English translations of the Bible, the word “awesome” refers exclusively to the person or work of God.
The person of God: In Biblical times, when people were confronted with God’s awesome presence, the inevitable human response was to tremble and cower. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses hid his face and trembled before God (Exod. 3:6). When Isaiah saw the Lord in his glory and majesty, he cried, “Woe is me, I am undone!” (6:5). When Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul fell to the ground (Acts 9:4). This is the attitude or disposition they had for God. It wasn’t just an emotional state of mind.
The works of God: But it’s not only the presence of God that invokes awe or fear, it is also the astonishing works of God such as Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:26), or the raising of the widow’s son (Luke 7:16), or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early church (Acts 2:43). The people who were witnesses to these works of God were filled with awe or fear. Again, it was not just an emotional experience but an attitude to these astonishing works of God.
Now then, can we still describe common things the same way we describe God – “awesome flowers”, “awesome meals”, “awesome holiday” … “awesome God?” Are we not placing all of them on an equal plane? May it never be! Wonderful, yes, but awesome? Never!
Henceforth, let us never use the word “awesome” loosely to describe frail things. Let us show proper regard for God’s power and dominion. Reserve the word for Him alone and His work only. The prophet Habakkuk’s prayer was: “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD” (NIV Hab. 3:2). Let it be ours too!