Wonder at God

Our encounter with God is one that both wounds us and leaves us in wonder at Him, so Scripture suggests.

How can this be? To be wounded and to wonder seem to have nothing to do with each other. Being wounded is something personal, something we hide from others. We bind and bandage up our wounds. When we are injured we stay home from school or work and abstain from all but necessary errands. Healing wounds of any kind is a private affair.

Wonderment, on the other hand, seems wholly external to us. It’s the word we use to describe seeing a sunset from a mountaintop. Or, perhaps a majestic waterfall. Or the first time we grasp just how vast the universe really is.

Wound and wonderment—the two experiences seem worlds apart. Our wounds remind of our limitations. We wonder at the seemingly limitless beauty of the world around us.

But do we not experience both in encountering God? Does not our encounter with what one theologian has called the “beauty of the infinite” leave us painfully conscious of our finitude? Does it not leave us feeling even wounded?

Certainly, this is suggested in Scripture.

In the Book of Job, the character allows Himself to be wounded—to be vulnerable—to God. “Slay me though he might, I will wait for him,” Job declares (Job 13:15). Job waits and endures. He is finally granted a glimpse of God’s grandeur in Job 38:

Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
Into what were its pedestals sunk,
and who laid its cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb,
When I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands? (Job 38:4-9)

This scolding—from the Creator God out of storm cloud—goes on for two chapters.

Finally, God demands a response of Job.

He is speechless.

“Look, I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth,” Job responds (Job 40:4).

Job’s wounding by God leads to his wonderment at the Creator. This story points to a distinctively Christian understanding of God. Yes, our God is all-knowing, all-powerful, wholly other and perfectly God. But He is also a God who wills to be known intimately be us. We wonder at Him even as we are wounded by Him.

This connection is carried over into the New Testament, notably in Acts 2, where Peter preaches to the Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. In explaining what has just happened to the apostles, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel:

And I will work wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below:
blood, fire, and a cloud of smoke.
The sun shall be turned to darkness,
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the great and splendid day of the Lord (Acts 2:19-20).

This language, evoking so vividly the greatness of God, would ring familiar to someone like Job. But something has changed here. Peter goes on to tell of the God who became man, the God who became wounded for our sakes. In the mystery of the Incarnation, it is God who first became wounded for us.

Those who hear this message and take it to heart are, in turn, wounded. In Acts 2:37, we are told that “when they heard this, they were cut to the heart.” Conversion—through repentance and baptism—ensues, and the Church added three thousand that day.

What’s most telling about the episode is that their initial wounding at the gospel message—their sense of sin and inadequacy before God—eventually grows into wonderment. For a few verses later we learn that, “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” (Acts 2:43).

Some translations reword that sentence, assuming that the awe was in response to the wonders and signs of the apostles, but the original Greek is clear: the awe came first. Such awe was in response to these early converts’ experience of God Himself.

The Incarnation, then, radically redefines the Old Testament understanding of what it means to know and love God. Yes, as before, we are wounded in our initial encounter—wounded in having our weakness and limited nature exposed to God. And, as we open ourselves up to God, our souls are filled with a sense of wonder as the Book of Job depicts so well. The difference the Incarnation makes is this: God becomes wounded with us so that we might wonder at Him all the more.

image: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com


Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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