Amazement is one of the best feelings in the world. The problem is, you can’t choose to be amazed at any given moment. Amazement comes over you like a downpour from a passing storm cloud, leaving you washed in wonder.
What brings on amazement is surprising. Sun on water. Green leaves waving to an impossible sky. A trained voice sustaining a note so pure that you can almost see it in the air. A person doing some unexpected act so generous that you immediately recognize it as a glimpse of an ancient thing called love.
Because amazement is such a wonderful experience, we seek situations that provoke it in us. This pursuit keeps the National Park Service full of annual visitors. It drives the travel industry. It keeps us going to the silver screen to be immersed in worlds unlike our own. We want to be amazed, but we don’t know how to amaze ourselves.
Amazed by Design
God designed us with the capacity for amazement.
This post is part of a series that attempts to show how Scripture gives a framework for addressing different ways our hearts respond to the world. The introductory post laid out our guiding principle: God designed people to respond from the heart to the unique situations in which He has placed them. So, the question this post addresses is, how should we understand amazement as an expression of the heart?
Amazement is the emotional response of surprise to a situation out of the norm. Amazement, then, is an emotional indicator of a person’s expectations of what is normal; it is triggered when something out-of-place occurs. Amazement can be positive or negative, depending on a person’s evaluation of the situation. Positively, amazement is joy in the sudden discovery of beauty; negatively, it’s being appalled by the discovery of something offensive.
Amazed to Find Beauty
The Gospel writers mention people’s being amazed quite a bit. Most of the time, they report on people who were amazed at Jesus. Jesus broke expectations regarding what a human being is capable of. The disciples were amazed that a man could command wind and sea (Matt. 8:27; Luke 8:25). The crowds were amazed that He could cast out demons and heal any disease (Matt. 9:33; 15:31). They were astonished at the “gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22). But most of all, the disciples were in awe that a dead man had risen (Luke 24:12, 41). No one had seen anyone like Jesus before.
God gave us amazement as an instrument for discovery. As holding a metal detector in our hands increases our awareness of potential treasures to discover, our capacity for wonder is both the motivation and the sensor for finding beauty in the great wide world. We seek beauty.
Amazement and Sin
This instrument, sadly, is broken. It gets calibrated incorrectly. If amazement means having our expectations broken, then our amazement reveals what we think of as normal. And what we think of as normal can be incorrect.
People were positively amazed by the miracles of Jesus, but they were also amazed—negatively—when He broke their social conventions. The Pharisees were appalled that He didn’t wash before eating (Luke 11:38), the disciples were shocked to find Him talking to a woman (John 4:27), and Pilate marveled that He gave no answer under trial (Mark 15:5). This shows that people’s idea of normal involves both accuracies (a normal person can’t raise dead children to life) and inaccuracies (a normal person must conform to our customs).
Our capacity for wonder gets calibrated wrong in a few different ways. For one, it is often short-lived. We acclimate to what is beautiful so that it becomes part of our expectations. We are no longer provoked to wonder by the burning red of geraniums or inspired to marvel by watching the subtle eye movement of an infant making meaning of her world.
Another way our amazement goes wrong is in how shallow it is. Our minds don’t connect the beauty that amazes us with the cleverness of God. The red in that geranium is the expression of a cosmic genius. The eye movement of a baby is a neurological masterpiece on display. Even in those moments of wonder, we are often satisfied with the pleasantness of these experiences in themselves and do not connect them to God’s wisdom and goodness.
Amazement and Faith
When a Christian, by faith, increasingly sees the world as God does, his capacity to sense beauty is sharpened. His instrument for amazement is calibrated to what ought to thrill him and, on the other hand, shock him.
Our pursuit of amazement is sanctified by higher purposes. Instead of seeking merely the pleasurable feeling that accompanies a discovery, we pursue wonder to increase thankfulness. Our hearts sing not with discovery itself but with discovery of the ultimate source of all beauty.
Even Jesus marveled. He marveled when He found faith in an unexpected place (Matt. 8:10). A man who had not been raised to know God believed in the One He had sent. The desperate father’s faith was beautiful to Jesus. He was in awe of what God found beautiful, even when no one else was that impressed. God found it beautiful because He had placed it there. Jesus’ emotional response was His recognition of this fact.
As Christians grow in faith, they will likewise find wonder where no one else does. It is the increased capacity to use wonder for what God designed it for: as a sensor of what is beautiful and out-of-the-norm for a broken world, ultimately preparing us for a world where beauty is the norm.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on March 12, 2018 and is part of a series on Bible study. Previous post. Next post.