Hard-wired for Awe

My sixteen-year old and I are laboring over chemistry together these days, and his textbook has decreed that we are not to move on to Chapter 5 until he is confident in balancing equations.

We’re not going anywhere right away, so  . . .

We have spent this week with a printed worksheet of fifty chemical equations, working through them one-by-one, and we’re taking it slowly, because this is a boy who is hard-wired for a different kind of work.  He needs the chemistry as a means to an end so we’re making every effort, but God has hard-wired this brown-eyed son for working with his hands.

Paul David Tripp, author of Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say and Do, is helping me to see that the human heart has been hard-wired for awe.  We give ourselves to the worship of one thing after another — good things and some, maybe, not so good —  but supplanting the One who made them all.  The truth is that the only satisfactory object for our awe is God Himself.  Looking for awe in other places results in a continual search.

The decisions we make about our lives are largely awe-driven.  For example, if I live in awe of material things, I will work to acquire them, spend my time maintaining them, neglect other valuable things in the process, and still come away feeling empty.  This misplaced awe, however, has a purpose.  In the disappointment and frustration, my eyes will see that this lesser object of my awe is merely a road sign pointing me to the place where the awe of my heart should rest.

It follows, then, that much of what we struggle to overcome in the Christian life are not merely problems of addiction or discontent or dishonesty.  We have a problem with misplaced awe.  Adam and Eve got us off on the wrong foot in the Genesis 3 account of “awe gone wrong.”  Although they had everything, they wanted more.  Eve was transfixed with an awe of independent wisdom.  Tracing the biblical narrative throughout history from their son Cain and on through Samson, Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, and even Jesus’ power-hungry disciples,  it is clear that “awe of God is very quickly replaced by awe of self.”

God is in a battle for the awe of our hearts, and the story of the Gospel frames the lengths to which He was willing to go to recapture the hearts of humanity.  But even safe in the Kingdom, the heart is not immune to waywardness.  “If my heart is not given over to the worship of God, it will give itself to the worship of something else.”

One phrase from Psalm 145:4 changed the trajectory of Paul David Tripp’s ministry:

“One generation shall commend your works to another.”

He came to understand that the focus of ministry is to hold the glory of God’s works before His people in order to inspire awe of God in their hearts, and it’s a never-ending process, because even though we are hard-wired for awe, we are “awe amnesiacs.”  Whatever the sin that plagues and beguiles, it can be diagnosed as an awe problem:  debt, adultery, and gluttony are evidence that the sinner is “asking of things what you will only ever get from the God of glory, who alone can satisfy the searching heart.”  Early in life, we reveal our sinful tendency to replace awe of the Creator with awe of something in the creation, (Romans 1:25).  Vertical awe is, thereby, replaced with horizontal addiction.

Paul David Tripp examines his thesis from various angles, like turning a cut stone in the light:

  • Viewed in light of humanity’s awe amnesia, the physical world becomes a God-given mnemonic to help us remember the grandeur and glory of the One who set it all in motion.
  • Transgressions of the law become evidence of a heart that has not been captivated by God because “the seedbed for a life of obedience is awe.”
  • Gathered worship of God’s people becomes an opportunity for the under-shepherd to “give people their awe back again.”
  • Complaining reveals itself as “anti-praise,” deeply theological and moral evidence that the complainer questions the goodness of God, His intention to keep His promises, His sovereignty, His power, and His love.

The Christian life, then, is a continual process of awe reclamation.  This is all of grace and is fueled by a right understanding of who God is.  Tripp recommends regular immersion in “worldview literature,” passages such as Isaiah 40 that support a “heart-pounding, silence-inducing, worship-stimulating awe of God,” and therefore, place God as very powerful and wise and caring in the center of the universe.  This spills over into how we parent, how we do church, how we view work, and ultimately how we view ourselves.  Awe of God frees the believer from bondage to awe of lesser things and opens the door to a deep and abiding rest in the knowledge that our hearts will ultimately be satisfied in the “not yet” of eternity when we realize that every longing we ever knew was simply pointing toward the moment when we would see God face-to-face.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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25 thoughts on “Hard-wired for Awe”

  1. Michelle, I am always so refreshed and enlightened by your reviews. I am also encouraged to know that there are still good books being written and published.

    Re: your kinesthetic son – I so understand. I am a kinesthetic learner. Have you tried giving him materials to recreate the formulas. Example: on the back of scrabble tiles, using a sharpie, mark each with a symbol. If he ‘builds’ the formulas by choosing the correct symbols, he might be better able to lock in with his touch and construct learning style.

    Just brainstorming…:-)


  2. I have a chemistry student, too, Michele. He isn’t enjoying it quite as much as I do. 🙂 I love this here, “The Christian life, then, is a continual process of awe reclamation.” If this is how we are to process living, then we are truly able to reclaim His living within our own.

    I’d love to know where you found the stoichiometry worksheets for chemistry. I think we may need a little help balancing equations. As a side note, I have learned at least an introduction to Algebra 2 has helped my chemistry students handle balancing chemical equations better.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure that’s true about the Algebra 2. The worksheets are just something I googled and printed. I think I googled something like “balancing chemistry equation worksheets with answers” Those last two words were most important!! They were free and I just printed them out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I may need to add this book to my growing list! Sometimes I think the pursuit of answers to those things that were once considered miraculous has been a terrible blow to our awe of the one who makes all things possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michele, the first thing I thought of as I read your opening paragraph about your son’s lessons? How if we would only hang out on things that Holy Spirit shows us and let it soak in and we finally “get it” then we wouldn’t have to keep re-visiting the same ole thing over and over!!! Great post!


  5. Wonderful post, Michelle! I have never read this book, but the truths here are so profound. And, it happens so subtly…we begin to displace our awe without even realizing it. The world is so full of distractions, it takes an intentional, concentrated effort to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. I needed this precious reminder today and am so thankful I stopped by. God bless you and yours with a Merry Christmas!


  6. I have a Chemistry student also, Michele. He is not a math lover so the excitement of taking Chemistry has worn off a little. I gave him a little encouragement – he will be finished with the 2 required sciences in the spring and then he can study what he wants his junior and senior years. I’m going to have to add this book to my library list for January, it sounds like something I should be reading. Thank you for sharing with Thankful Thursdays.


  7. Great review! I was really struck by these words…”Vertical awe is, thereby, replaced with horizontal addiction.” The sad part is that we too easily let this happen because we hear over and over through social media that this is what we want. Great words to ponder! Thank you. Michele!


  8. What a great review, Michele! I love the concept of being hard-wired for awe. I have never thought of it in quite that way. If we are not in awe of God, we will be in awe of something else.A something else that at the least will not fulfill us, but at its worst has the power to destroy us. I’ve got goosebumps thinking of this right now!!
    Have a very merry and blessed Christmas, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This book was helpful to me in putting words around what I’ve felt for some time now — my heart is an idol factory. I will worship something. It must be God if I am to find true peace and fulfillment. Blessings to you as well, Lori.


  9. Wonderful Michele – love how you know how your son is wired, and are patient as you walk with him. To know that our time searching for anything that we were not created for is wasted should shock us all into a desire for more Jesus.

    Thanks for sharing with The Cozy Reading Spot

    Merry Christmas 😉


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