El Hannora

“And now, our God, the great and mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of unfailing love, do not let all the hardships we have suffered seem insignificant to you.”

Nehemiah 9:32a

El Hannora: Awesome God

A definition of a word we have bleached pale by overuse:

awesome: (adj) extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.

Oxford Language

I love the book of Nehemiah. It is so charged with real emotion; so much of religion can be stoic, repetitive, ritualistic, voided of whatever feeling it once held by the burden it has now become. All the meaning of those rituals, all the value in their execution, is so often forgotten as other urgencies creep into our lives and usurp whatever time we had to remember. In the book of Nehemiah, though, the people were in the depths of memory, and just as much they were already stepping over the brink of the fulfillment of their greatest, most impossible dream for the future: return.

This declaration of God as the Awesome God was not a casual toss of a serious word as we are so use to hearing it. It comes pouring out of their memories of Israel’s repeated sins and God’s repeated (just) punishment; it comes pouring from their memories of crying out to God, their only hope, though they were the ones who had abandoned him, and finding his unexpected forgiveness waiting patiently for their call; it comes pouring out of their memories, recent and distant, of captivity, slavery, and yearning to own their own lives, and the surreal moment they now find themselves in, standing in the homeland they were never sure they would see again, worshipping the God they did not think would take them back, and relearning their identity as his people and – what is most – his identity as their God. And they are paralyzed, breathless at who they now see he is.

There is no word big enough to wrap around this God. So they choose the biggest word they have in hope it will convey enough for others to come and see for themselves, and fully share their awe: El Hannora, the Awesome God.

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