“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.” Psalm 57:4
The basic paradigm by which I’ve always seen the Christian life is a series of ideas that rise from the Heidelberg Catechism, the handbook of doctrine with which I was raised. Those steps are not difficult. They go like this: “sin, salvation, service.”
The story line begins with sin—our knowledge of it, as it exists specifically within us. Calvin starts even a bit earlier, with the heavens, specifically with our sense of God as manifest in his world in what we see and experience. Because humans can’t help but see God’s marvelous work in the heavens and earth all around, we there is something, someone, larger than life itself and much, much greater than we are—there simply has to be.
When we know we aren’t God, we know something about sin.
That conviction draws us closer to him. Knowing our limitations is a prerequisite to knowing God. Sin precedes salvation, or so the story goes, through the second chapter.
There’s one more step. That he loves us in spite of our sin makes hearts fill and souls rejoice; we can’t help but celebrate, and that celebration leads us into gratitude and service, into offering his love to the world he loves so greatly.
Sin, salvation, service—that’s the story line, the narrative by which I was raised.
Mother Theresa’s take on a very similar tale was a three-step process not totally unlike Heidelberg’s narrative line, but colored instead by her experience in the sad ghettos of Calcutta. Our redemption begins in repulsion—what we see offends us, prompts us to look away. But we can’t or shouldn’t or won’t; we have to look misery in its starving face, and when we do, we move from repulsion to compassion—away from rejection and toward loving acceptance.
And the final step is what she called “bewonderment,” sheer wonder and admiration. Compassion leads us to bewonderment.
“Bewonderment” is one of those strange words no one uses but everyone understands, probably because, like reverence, it’s simply hard to come by in a culture where our supposed needs are never more than a price tag away.
Bewonderment is hard to come by for me, perhaps because it isn’t so clearly one of the chapters in the story I was told as a boy, the story which is still deeply embedded in my soul. “Service” is the end of the Christian life—or always has been—for me, not “bewonderment.”
Maybe that’s why I’m envious of David’s praise here. What he says to God in prayer is something I rarely tell him. I don’t think I’ve ever asked God not to hide his little light under a bushel, to display his radiant grace from pole-to-pole. I’m forever asking for favors, but only rarely am I adoring, in part, in part, I suppose, because I’m so rarely in awe.
Bewonderment is something I’m learning as I age, and for that I’m thankful—for the book, for the song, for David the singer, and for the God David knew so intimately that he could speak the way he does in Psalm 57.
It’s difficult for some of us to be intimate with God—to be so close to a being so great and grandly out of reach. But intimacy is something a song can teach—and the heavens too. Bewonderment is something even an old man can learn, if he has eyes and ears.