Reverence – An Overview

My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni recently featured an article by communications studies professor Gregory Spencer taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues (InterVarsity Press). I know of Professor Spencer because he also has written a couple fantasy novels, consequently I was particularly interested in reading his article entitled “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes.” As it turned out, much of what he said is relevant to the recent discussions we’ve had here and here about God.

Professor Spencer quickly moved from his introduction, to Scripture—specifically the account of Moses’s encounter and reaction to God speaking to him from a flaming shrub. Remove the shoes, God said, as if the shoes were somehow less clean than the feet. And Moses was quick to do so. While we may not understand the whys and wherefores of God’s command, there’s still much we can learn, by metaphor if not by principle. And Professor Spencer did a wonderful job drawing out those lessons.

In contrast to Moses’s position—standing barefoot on holy ground—Jesus and Paul knelt in prayer and four others who encountered Christ knelt before him. Others in Scripture fell on their faces. So how do the two reactions to the holy relate?

This is where Professor Spencer uses the physical posture of people in reverent communication with God as metaphors to explain what reverence actually means. The concept has two prongs, he points out. One aspect is what we often think of—kneeling before the sacred:

Noticing the sacred is noticing all of God that we can see, especially his holiness. Sometimes the sacred is found because it is searched for. Sometimes it seems to crash upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is there.

The second aspect of reverence, the part we too often miss or mistakenly practice, is standing up to the profane:

The profane is that which intentionally dismisses, ridicules or destroys the sacred. When our loved ones are attacked or defiled, don’t we bristle and seek to defend them? Aren’t we saddened when they are misrepresented, ostracized or harmed? And so it is in our life with the Lover of our souls. Who cares about sacrilege these days? The reverent do.

Professor Spencer closes this section with a good reminder that not everything offensive to us is offensive to God, and vice versa. The standard we must use is that which grieves His heart.

The article did not elaborate on this point (perhaps the book does), but I’d add that Scripture is the source we can rely upon to know what moves God’s heart. For example, Jesus mourned for Jerusalem because He longed to gather its people like a hen gathers its chicks, but they would not. It’s safe to say, then, that people rejecting Christ grieves God’s heart.

The books of prophecy are filled with things that grieved God’s heart. At one point He said He wanted justice and mercy rather than sacrifice. He chastised His people for idol worship, for neglecting the Sabbath, for profaning His house, for mistreating widows and orphans, and on and on.

Anyway, I thought these two points were good starting places to understand reverence—kneel before the sacred and stand against the profane.

Published in: on January 10, 2011 at 7:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. Very good. Might have to look up the book. And you said he also wrote Christian fantasy?


  2. He did. He’s got some brilliant ideas, but especially in the first book lacks some expertise with craft that would have made the stories really good. I liked the second one a lot, but you needed to read the first one to really understand the second, and unfortunately the first one … has issues. I don’t know if he’s still planning on writing the third one or not. He’s taken down the web site and it’s been several years now—maybe three. I was hoping he’d finish. I was actually hoping he’d rewrite the first one, but I don’t know how that works with rights and all.



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