A Sense of Awe and Fear

Views from Bald Mountain in the Uinta Mountains of Utah

Views from Bald Mountain in the Uinta Mountains of Utah

Some of the places we go in the wilderness fill our hearts with wonder.  Sometimes we are struck speechless by the sheer majesty of the view before us: the thick forest, the massive mountains, the sheer cliffs, the craggy peaks, the beautiful lake, the glorious wildflowers, the crazy rock formations, the enormous arch, and so much more.

Looking through an arch into Bryce Canyon en route to the Peek-a-boo Loop, Utah

Looking through an arch into Bryce Canyon en route to the Peek-a-boo Loop, Utah

What we are feeling in those moments is a sense of awe.  We are in wonder at the wonderful things in God’s creation.

The Tetons from Grand View, Wyoming

The Tetons from Grand View, Wyoming

Just what is awe, and why do we feel it in the wilderness?  The dictionary defines “awe” as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.”

Clouds over the Grand Canyon, Arizona

Clouds over the Grand Canyon

When we see an inspiring view or find ourselves surrounded by beauty, there is a sense of fear that comes on us.  It’s astonishment at the sheer majesty; amazement at this thing that is outside of our most vivid imaginings.  To get down to the bottom of it, it’s a feeling of wonder at God, Himself, via the things He made.

Reflections in a little tarn along the Ute Trail West in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Reflections in a little tarn along the Ute Trail West in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Why would we feel fear at a beautiful view?  What is it that strikes that chord in our hearts?  I have to admit, “fear” is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a lovely mountain view, but awe is exactly what I think about with the spectacular scenery around me.

The Hidden Lakes Peaks and more from the trail to Cascade Pass in North Cascades National Park, Washington

The Hidden Lakes Peaks and more from the trail to Cascade Pass in North Cascades National Park, Washington

Part of it is that we associate fear with terror; for example, being scared of a bear charging you.  Awe is a kind of fear, but it’s not terror.  Awe is a reverential fear.  Fear as in respect and the knowledge that this is so much bigger than us.

Slickrock and wildflowers above Tunnel Slot in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Slickrock and wildflowers above Tunnel Slot in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

It’s actually a lot like the awe we feel toward God.  We’re not terrified of God (Hebrews 4:16), but we are in awe of Him: in reverence and respect, knowing that He is so much beyond our human minds.

Hiking through peaceful Bonneville Pass, Wyoming

Hiking through peaceful Bonneville Pass, Wyoming

We’re not afraid of a mountain view, but it humbles us and puts us in our place.  It reminds us of something so much bigger, which leaves us in awe.  It is a taste of heaven, and that leaves us in awe – and “reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder”.

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