Originally posted Feb. 1, 2012, at Halstad Parish. Republished with permission of the author.
This summer I was able to do something I’ve never done before. We went to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn., and I got the chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a live bald eagle for a photo op. There was no barrier between the eagle and myself, although one of the staff members of the center was right there, handling the eagle.
I’ve seen eagles in the air, soaring high in the sky or sitting perched up high on a tree or pole. Even from far away, they are big, majestic and beautiful birds. But up so close, there was something more.
Standing inches away from a full-grown, strong eagle, I could see the power in the talons and the beak. That was also reinforced by the fact that I had sat through a lecture not long before and learned about the power of the birds.
We heard that there are eye-witness accounts of eagles taking down an adult deer. I found myself unwilling to stare eye-to-eye with the bird. Its stare was too other, too alien, and so challenging.
I have never really had a feeling for the way some of the older translations and languages of the Bible talk about God. They talk about fearing God and being awestruck by God. Even Luther in the Small Catechism (which he wrote to teach children) writes in his explanations that we are to “fear and love God.”
I came closer to understanding what that fear might mean while meeting the eagle face-to-face. I was definitely in “awe” of the eagle.
We sing songs about God being “an awesome God” but I think the usual understanding is a more casual feeling of God being “cool” or “great.”
Certainly the Old Testament understanding of the awesomeness of God is more akin to the eagle: raw power and beautiful and yet beyond our control, not tame. To “fear” God is not the same fear that children might have of monsters or the fear of snakes or spiders. Instead, to fear God is to take seriously the power and otherness of God. It is to be in awe before God.
Why do we need this awesome God?
Because we live in a broken world where evil is real and bad things happen to good people. Things happen all the time that are beyond our understanding and control, from large-scale disasters to personal tragedies. Even the relationships with the people we love can become strained. Sometimes the circumstances of our lives can leave us drained and discouraged.
At these times, we can find comfort in the words of the prophet Isaiah. Like the eagle, God is able to lift us up, give us strength and courage, and even more, hold us in such love and mercy that is stronger than anything anywhere. God has not left us alone but is with us, giving us new life and comfort. God helps us to soar again even when we cannot. Read the words of Isaiah 40:28-31.
Find a link to Christine Iverson’s entry on the blog Halstad Parish at Lutheran Blogs.