Reverence – An Overview

My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni 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.”

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.

Re-posted with minor revisions from an article by this same title posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

Published in: on July 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. Excellent thoughts for the day; Acts 10 reveals God speaking to Peter and reminding him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

    Along that line, how many things which God has made Holy, have we profaned?

    There is a “disturbance in the force” in Southern Baptist churches when it comes to how children behave in church. I grew up attending a Presbyterian church and it was definitely, “Seen and not heard.”

    These days we tend to be more tolerant of kids who put their feet on the backs of pews or eat in the sanctuary. Why? Because we want them in the room to hear the message of God. If we drive them out because they cannot sustain a particular standard of behavior, will they miss out on a chance for God to speak to their hearts?

    Does a child putting his shoes on the back of a pew render the pew ‘unholy’? Perhaps we need to start checking our shoes at the door of the sanctuary?

    Great blog – thanks 🙂



    • Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. I like that connection with what God told Peter. This all fits in with what my pastor has been discussing recently. Our lives aren’t to be segmented into what is of God and what is of ourselves or society or our business.

      I just thought how countercultural this is. One of the common phrases today is, “It isn’t personal; it’s business,” as if personal and business are separate. That’s the way Christians have operated for far too long–it’s not religious; it’s personal or it’s business or it’s entertainment–as if what we believe about God ought to be sectioned off from the rest of life.

      But you bring up the whole issue of profaning the holy. I tend to think that happens more with our attitudes than it does with our actions–which actually grow out of our attitudes. If we taught kids to value and respect the people who are sitting in front of them or the people who have to clean up after them, maybe we wouldn’t have to be concerned with where they put their feet. 😉



  2. Becky, I love the way you often sum up the point of your wonderful posts into a short, memorable sentence or phrase. I sincerely hope I remember this: Kneel before the sacred and stand against the profane.


    • Thanks, Amber. I appreciate your encouragement. I’m happy you found something memorable there.



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