Please understand that the above statement does not deny that God is awesome. He most certainly is! The Scriptures proclaim that in many ways.
But what does it mean that God is awesome? I suspect that most people would refer to the fact that God is almighty. There is no denying the jaw-dropping displays that testify to the omnipotence of our Lord.
God created the universe in six 24-hour days. All things, seen and unseen, came into being simply because God commanded it to be so. God said, “Let there be,” and there was – in all its variety, brilliance, and abundance. It is on display in the vast oceans, the towering mountains, the wind-swept canyons, the lush forests, and the arid deserts. That is awesome.
God’s omnipotence continues to be on display as he annually provides enough food for every creature on earth; as, season after season, he keeps the planets in their orbits; as he controls the thunderstorms, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc… The Awesome Power behind the awesome power of nature is our Almighty God.
God is awesome. It is revealed throughout the beauty and violence of creation. It causes scientists to marvel, artists to wonder, and poets to ponder.
And yet, it has never saved anyone.
No one was ever saved because God is awesome. God’s omnipotence, revealed in creation, shows us that God is imaginative, wise, precise, orderly, generous, and strong, but it tells us nothing about mercy.
When the Lord revealed himself to the Egyptians in Moses’ day, he afflicted them with plagues and death. No doubt, it was an awesome display of God’s strength. How many Egyptians do you suppose were saved by it? Or think about the Judgment Day to come. God’s wrath will be poured out in all its fury on the guilty. Awesome? Sure. Those who are banished to hell will be impressed, but not saved.
No one was ever saved because God is awesome. It sounds strange, but it is true. For this reason, we ought to take care that our hymns have something more to say than God is awesome – for the sake of our visitor who needs to know more about God than he is awesome, and for our own sake because we need more encouragement than that.
God’s forgiveness is revealed in a weak, suffering Savior. God’s justice is displayed in a Messiah who was falsely accused, brutally beaten, and maliciously executed. God’s compassion is seen through a Savior who had nails driven through his wrists and feet and a spear thrust into his heart. God’s forgiveness comes through his Son who was condemned. Eternal life comes from the lifeless One who hung from a cross.
Simply from a historic perspective, Jesus’ sufferings and death appear to be grotesque. They are an image of a weak, helpless, and beaten man.
Faith knows better and says that this is where God is truly awesome. This is where God demonstrates a boundless love to sinners – that he would suffer and die to save them.
This salvation is given not through displays of power and grandeur, but through preaching, through water, and through bread and wine. Though these appear to be simple things, they are how God grants to us the benefits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Rather than confess that God is awesome (which could mean anything), we rejoice that God is merciful, that God has become man to suffer and die for us, and that God purifies us of all sin. No one is saved because God is “awesome”, but many have been saved because God has suffered, bled, and died for them. No one receives salvation by taking in the grandeur of creation; but we are saved by partaking in the word and sacraments. It is there that our Lord is at work to deliver his gives. To some, it appears lowly and even boring. But to God's people, these are where God delivers his gifts of forgiveness, new life, and salvation. In these, God does not dazzle us with awe; by these he delivers us in his mercy.