Have you ever considered: Why do we worship God? Is the human mind specifically designed to benefit from religious devotion? If so, what was our Creator’s purpose, and why does He want us to worship him? The answers may surprise you.
Several thousand years ago, a young shepherd sat alone in a field under a brilliant night sky. He looked up at the starlit expanse and was deeply moved. It may have been during such a night that he thought of these lines: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:3–4).
This shepherd was destined for greatness as the future king of Israel, yet he never lost touch with that early sense of wonder in meditating on God’s greatness and his own relative smallness. On that quiet night, in particular, young David felt awe.
Our word “awe” comes from the fourteenth-century English term aue, meaning “fear, terror, great reverence” (“awe (n.),” EtymOnline.com). Today, it means a sense of vastness, wonder, admiration, or inspiration. Awe has particularly puzzled evolutionary scientists; though so highly developed in humans, awe seems to serve no obvious survival purpose. We at Tomorrow’s World understand that a master Creator designed our world’s highly complex forms and their functions, as well as many even more complex emotions and feelings. Though subject to abuse and manipulation, awe is wired into our neural structures for a purpose. We were wired for awe and therefore wired for the worship of our God. Awe, as we will see, is something we can cultivate in our Christian walk today.
In her article, “What Awe Looks Like in the Brain,” Dr. Summer Allen cites a study by Michiel van Elk of the University of Amsterdam. He and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the brains of participants viewing videos. The videos selected to inspire awe decreased brain activity in regions of the default mode network (DMN), a brain system particularly active when our minds wander or engage in self-absorbed thought. Dr. Allen summarizes, “In other words, awe may help stop us from ruminating on our problems and daily stressors. Instead, awe seems to pull us out of ourselves and make us feel immersed in our surroundings and the larger world (which may help explain its tendency to inspire generosity and a sense of connection with others). Dampening DMN activity may be key to giving us a sense of self-transcendence” (GreaterGood.Berkeley.edu, October 18, 2019).
Private business is increasingly teaming with neuroscience to study and measure the awe experience for profit. Many businesses see awe as a desirable state to trigger in consumers, and they can do so by using electronic media, virtual reality, and visual effects. Even Cirque du Soleil has jumped on the bandwagon, partnering with neuroscientists to study audience response to their performances. They measure factors including pre- and post-show behavior, heart rate responses, brain activity, and galvanic skin responses (“Cirque du Soleil and the neuroscience of awe,” Vox.com).
Is this neurobiological phenomenon manipulated more frequently than we realize? Could awe be hijacked by “influencers”? Perhaps even by a nefarious political or religious leader? Bible prophecy reveals that, in the end times, a charismatic leader will wield great influence over masses of people swayed to venerate him. 2 Thessalonians 2 warns us of a false prophet who will show great spectacles and signs, proclaim himself divine, and demand worship. Read our free booklet The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor, or Soon-Coming Reality? to learn more.
Awe was understood properly by the Apostle Paul, the man who wrote to the Thessalonians. Paul, mentored and trained by the prominent religious scholar Gamaliel, spent much of his youth and early adulthood studying Scripture. With a tremendous reverence for the God-breathed word, Paul felt its truths resonate deeply in his heart and mind. He well demonstrates a thoughtful illustration of awe: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).
Paul here illustrates the first step to instilling awe in our worship: contemplating how God is vast or noteworthy. Paul’s exclamation of “Oh, the depth of the riches…!” refers to truth that cannot be comprehended humanly. This “wisdom and knowledge of God” has a depth that even the angels don’t understand (1 Peter 1:12). Paul was well acquainted with scriptural examination of God’s mysteries and thrilled by their unfathomable depths that could not be fully explored in a lifetime.
Divine counsel is characterized not only by depth and height but also by breadth and length (Ephesians 3:18). No microscope can tease out its detail. No telescope can reveal its length and breadth. No MRI can reveal its inner workings. No man-made instrument can pound out its parts and pieces. Human beings cannot, by their own power, disassemble or reassemble the truth or begin to comprehend the mind of God.
Paul uses the word “riches” to denote an abundance of that which is precious and valuable. Mankind’s riches, compared to God’s, are shallow. The “bottom” of it all is too quickly reached, and only dejection and disappointment result. God’s riches, however, are “deep” and His judgments “are a great deep” (Psalm 36:6).
In our era of massive distrust of the media, it seems that truth is more elusive than ever. History is too often something malleable, bent to the current political agenda. We must view all information sources, media outlets, and even government officials with an unprecedented degree of suspicion and scrutiny. There is only one clear, certain, infallible view—only One who comprehends all things that are, ever were, and ever shall be. And, as the psalmist stated, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (Psalm 139:6).
But how can this be? “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:34). As a natural consequence of contemplating God’s many attributes, Paul calls into question the stature of man and sees what we all must come to see: God is big. I am small. Paul here illustrates the second step to instilling awe in our worship: contrasting God’s vastness with our smallness. Job understood this when he finally recognized God’s awe-inspiring power and beautiful grandeur, exclaiming, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me’” (Job 42:3–4).
Our God-given capacity for awe exists by design. It was designed by a Creator who wants a relationship with every human being He has created. Sadly, evil influencers have abused this neurobiological mechanism—as will a prophesied end-time false religious leader seeking incredible power. However, rightly used, awe is a gift from God. Just as the human organs of speech allow for meaningful communication between husband and wife, the mechanisms that give us the capacity for awe allow us to appreciate the meaningful ways in which our great God communicates with us and teaches us to approach Him in humility.
King David will live again; Scripture describes him as serving as a king under Jesus Christ in the future millennial Kingdom on earth (Jeremiah 30:9). Awe, led by truth, will help us walk the path leading to that kingdom.