Matthew 6:9b: hallowed be your name.
Is there, then, one word in English for giving to God the unique place which his nature and character demand? There is such a word, and the word is reverence. This petition is a prayer that we should be enabled to reverence God as God deserves to be reverenced. In all true reverence of God there are four essentials.
(i) In order to reverence God we must believe that God exists. We cannot reverence someone who does not exist; we must begin by being sure of the existence of God.
To the modern mind it is strange that the Bible nowhere attempts to prove the existence of God. For the Bible God is an axiom. An axiom is a self-evident fact which is not itself proved, but which is the basis of all other proofs. For instance, ‘A straight line is the shortest distance between two points,’ and, ‘Parallel lines, however far produced, will never meet,’ are axioms.
The Bible writers would have said that it was superfluous to prove the existence of God, because they experienced the presence of God every moment of their lives. They would have said that a man no more needed to prove that God exists than he needs to prove that his wife exists. He meets his wife every day, and he meets God every day.
But suppose we did need to try to prove that God exists, using our own minds to do so, how would we begin? We might begin from the world in which we live. Paley’s old argument is not yet completely outdated. Suppose there is a man walking along the road. He strikes his foot against a watch lying in the dust. He has never in his life seen a watch before; he does not know what it is. He picks it up; he sees that it consists of a metal case, and inside the case a complicated arrangement of wheels, levers, springs and jewels. He sees that the whole thing is moving and working in the most orderly way. He sees further that the hands are moving round the dial in an obviously predetermined routine. What then does he say? Does he say: “All these metals and jewels came together from the ends of the earth by chance, by chance made themselves into wheels and levers and springs, by chance assembled themselves into this mechanism, by chance wound themselves up and set themselves going, by chance acquired their obvious orderly working”? No. He says, “I have found a watch; somewhere there must be a watch-maker.”
Order presupposes mind. We look at the world; we see a vast machine which is working in order. Suns rise and set in an unvarying succession. Tides ebb and flow to a timetable. Seasons follow each other in an order. We look at the world, and we are bound to say, “Somewhere there must be a world-maker.” The fact of the world drives us to God. As Sir James Jeans has said, “No astronomer can be an atheist.” The order of the world demands the mind of God behind it.
We might begin from ourselves. The one thing man has never created is life. Man can alter and rearrange and change things, but he cannot create a living thing. Where then did we get our life? From our parents. Yes, but where did they get theirs? From their parents. But where did all this begin? At some time life must have come into the world; and it must have come from outside the world for man cannot create life; and once again we are driven back to God.
When we look in upon ourselves and out upon the world we are driven to God. As Kant said long ago, “the moral law within us, and the starry heavens above us,” drive us to God.
(ii) Before we can reverence God, we must not only believe that God is, we must also know the kind of God he is. No one could reverence the Greek gods with their loves and wars, their hates and their adulteries, their trickeries and their knaveries. No one can reverence capricious, immoral, impure gods. But in God as we know him there are three great qualities. There is holiness; there is justice; and there is love. We must reverence God, not only because he exists, but because he is the God whom we know him to be.
(iii) But a man might believe that God is; he might be intellectually convinced that God is holy, just and loving; and still he might not have reverence. For reverence there is necessary a constant awareness of God To reverence God means to live in a God-filled world, to live a life in which we never forget God. This awareness is not confined to the Church or to so-called holy places; it must be an awareness which exists everywhere and at all times.
Wordsworth spoke of it in Lines composed near Tintern Abbey:
“And I have feltA presence that disturbs me with the joyOf elevated thoughts; a sense sublimeOf something far more deeply interfused,Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,And the round ocean, and the living air,And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:A motion and a spirit, that impelsAll thinking things, all objects of all thought,And rolls through all things.”
One of the finest of modern devotional poets is Henry Ernest Hardy who wrote under the name of Father Andrew. In The Mystic Beauty he writes:
“O London town has many moods,And mingled ‘mongst its many broodsA leavening of saints,And ever up and down its streets,If one has eyes to see one meetsStuff that an artist paints.I’ve seen a back street bathed in blue,Such as the soul of Whistler knew:A smudge of amber light,Where some fried fish-shop plied its trade,A perfect note of colour made–Oh, it was exquisite!I once came through St. James’ ParkBetwixt the sunset and the dark,And oh the mysteryOf grey and green and violet!I would I never might forgetThat evening harmony.I hold it true that God is thereIf beauty breaks through anywhere;And his most blessed feet,Who once life’s roughest roadway trod.,Who came as man to show us God,Still pass along the street.”
God in the back street, God in St. James’ Park, God in the fried fish-shop–that is reverence. The trouble with most people is that their awareness of God is spasmodic, acute at certain times and places, totally absent at others. Reverence means the constant awareness of God.
(iv) There remains one further ingredient in reverence. We must believe that God exists; we must know what kind of a God he is; we must be constantly aware of God. But a man might have all these things and still not have reverence. To all these things must be added obedience and submission to God. Reverence is knowledge plus submission. In his catechism Luther asks, “How is God’s name hallowed amongst us?” and his answer is, “When both our life and doctrine are truly Christian,” that is to say, when our intellectual convictions, and our practical actions, are in full submission to the will of God.
To know that God is, to know what kind of a God he is, to be constantly aware of God, and to be constantly obedient to him–that is reverence and that is what we pray for when we pray: “Hallowed be thy name.” Let God be given the reverence which his nature and character deserve.