10/02/2007 04:51:00 pm

Setting Awesome Free

Posted by Unknown |

Over the past few years I've heard quite a few people complaining that the word "awesome" has lost its meaning. The last person I heard was talking about it was John Smith at Black Stump. We had a discussion about it at our camp site. But there have been many others talking about it and I regularly seem to be having conversations about the matter. Awesome, they say, should only be used for God. Awesome means "inspiring awe". When we look at someone's shirt and say "That's awesome" we're not actually filled with awe. When we eat a meal and say "That was awesome" we're lying because awe is not the feeling we feel. When we see a band and say "They were awesome" either we're easily impressed or we don't actually know what awe actually feels like.

Awesome, they say, should be reserved for God. Only God is truly awesome.

This view however is not one that I hold. Awesome, in my view, should be allowed to be used however we want to use it. Language is not static and concrete it is fluid and dynamic. Saying that word's meanings should only have one meaning, their original meaning, is like saying that candles should only be used for light and never for birthday cakes. Language is a tool be used, not a bunch of rules to submit our communication to.

If people decided to use the word awesome to describe things which don't actually fill them with awe, yet everyone understands what they mean, they aren't wrong, nor have they used the word wrong. They have communicated their feelings and their hearers have understood, language has done its job.

If I say a meal is awesome and I say God is awesome, I obviously mean two different things. I do not worship the meal, nor do I find God tasty. If I call a person violent and I call a storm violent that doesn't mean I think the person is going to blow down trees and destroy houses, nor do I think the storm is going to kick someone's head in.

My issue with people's insistence that awesome should only be used for God isn't really a linguistic one. I don't care too much if language purists want to try and preserve English in its "unadulterated" state, safe from the grotty hands of popular culture. They're fighting a losing a battle to preserve a way of speaking that's only as "true" as when they first learnt to speak, read and write. People have been using and abusing language for as long as they've been talking. You're not going to save language from the mischievous minds of those who want to use it to speak easily if not always eloquently. Let the people have their language, and the purists have their trivial arguments. I have bigger fish to fry. (That's a turn of phrase by the way, I don't think I've ever fried a fish in my life, let alone fish of varying sizes.)

My issue with the argument is that people seem to think that if we don't keep the word awesome for God, somehow God will diminish in his awe-inspiring qualities. As if God's formidable and breathtaking nature is under threat if we use a word once used to describe him to describe things which have very little resemblance to the divine being.

By saying that awesome should only be used to describe God we are not reserving a word for God but reducing God to an adjective. God's awesome nature will never be under threat whether we describe him as such or not. God is not awesome, awesome doesn't do God justice, he is beyond awesome, he is beyond terrifying, he is beyond majestic, he is beyond magnificent, he is beyond great, he is beyond gracious, he is beyond loving. Language wilts in the face of an ineffable God. Descriptions of God do not make God any greater, they just allow us to perhaps grasp a little of what the true character of God is. It is God condescending himself to allow us to describe him rather than our descriptions displaying our understanding of what is infinite.

So I say we should set awesome free. Let people use it how they want to use it. Our worship of God will not diminish if we have one less word to use for God. We can always find a new word or perhaps just share an old one. Our worship is not about our words anyway. Our true descriptions of the character of God will not come out of our mouths but out of our hearts and out of our lives. As we understand better the nature of God our words may not become more eloquent but our lives will become more beautiful as we more truly reflect who God is.

And I reckon that's fully sick.