But There Is a Difference…

I was reading an article earlier this week in which the author was descrying the common use of two words that are descriptive of God: awesome and reverend. His point was that these words are used in scripture to describe our amazing God and that we are irreverent of Him when we use these words to describe common things like men and earthly phenomena.

He went on to illustrate our everyday usage of these words by giving examples like using the title Reverend Bob Smith or describing a sermon as an awesome lesson. While I do think I catch his meaning, I would respectfully point out that these two usages are vastly different. When we say Reverend Bob Smith, we use a religious title for a man, a practice which our Lord vehemently opposes ( Matthew 23:1-12). He is not telling us in these verses never to call someone a teacher or a father. Obviously, men are called teachers and fathers over and over in scripture. He is expressly forbidding the use of religious titles that would elevate one man or woman spiritually beyond another. Examples would be Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul, Father Tim Jones, Reverend Brad Morgan or even Pastor Glenn Colley. (Now, my husband, Glenn, is a pastor [elder or shepherd] in the Lord’s body, so he can be described as one of our pastors, but it would be wrong to ascribe a title to him in a religious context because of Matthew 23. It would be okay to say, “My husband is a pastor.” But it would be wrong to say, “Meet my husband, Pastor Glenn Colley.” There is a difference. One is a description. The other is a title.

And so there is a difference between this assignment of religious titles and in using an adjective that has been used to describe God to describe something of a material nature. God’s name, for instance, is described as holy in Psalm 111: 9, yet we are also commanded to be holy (I Peter 1:16). God is described as great (Psa. 86:10), but would it be wrong for me to tell you that I just enjoyed the great service at the café? I think not, because we all understand that we can use the word great in various contexts to denote various degrees of “greatness.” God is described as mighty in Psalm 132:2 as well as in many other places, but people are described as mighty in Psalm 127:4 and other verses. So it is clearly not sinful in all circumstances to use adjectives that have been ascribed to Jehovah to describe people or things of this world.

So what about describing things as being awesome? While I hate to see the word that begins with “awe” describe a chili dog, because I believe it sort of diminishes from the clarity of the adjective, I think it would be overstating the case to say that the common use of the word “awesome” is a wrong thing to do. We should remember that the word “awesome” in our Bibles is merely the translators’ best modern stab at an ancient Hebrew or Greek word. We could also note that the word “awesome” does not appear in our KJV Bibles. It appears in the English Standard Version several times as well as in other versions and it aptly describes Jehovah. Does that make it wrong to describe some part of His creation as awesome or aweinspiring? I don’t think so. Is it wrong to use the term to describe a great expose of scripture? I doubt that it is, any more than my just calling it great was wrong. So is it a sin to call my hot dog awesome? I don’t think so. It stretches the meaning of the word just like when you told your three-year-old he was an amazing artist. He can draw a tree that you recognize as a tree. But he’s probably not going to be Da Vinci or even Norman Rockwell. You just overextended a word.

The use of an adjective that, at some point in scripture, was used to describe Deity, in reference to something common, is not a sin. But Jesus got really serious about the use of religious titles in Matthew 23. Are you a part of a religious body that uses religious titles to refer to leaders? If so, you would surely want to go about trying to rectify that situation.

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