King Nebuchadnezzar to everyone, everywhere—every race, color, and creed: “Peace and prosperity to all! It is my privilege to report to you the gracious miracles that the High God has done for me. His miracles are staggering, his wonders are surprising. His kingdom lasts and lasts, his sovereign rule goes on forever.” Daniel 4: 1-3 from The Message
As the APCE cabinet, APCE members and church education professionals across the land gear up for our next Annual Event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, February 1 through 4, 2012, we are invited to consider “God’s Surprising Wonders” in our midst. The committee planning this annual event takes its theme from the beginning of the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel, when King Nebuchadnezzar is preparing to tell of a dream he had and how his trusted advisor Daniel came to interpret it.
Our hope is to use our time together in Grand Rapids to remind ourselves of God’s surprising wonders and staggering miracles, that we might be ready to return to our homes and churches and places of ministry to proclaim as Nebuchadnezzar does. The Annual Event is always a time of refreshment and renewal for me, a chance to share my stories and hear the stories of colleagues in ministry, to be reminded of the calling we claim and the good news we have to share.
And yet we are so surrounded by superlatives in our lives today, so accustomed to super-sizing and extreme-izing every single thing we speak about that I worry that we hear Nebuchadnezzar say “God’s miracles are staggering” and we say to ourselves, “yeah, yeah, we know that already,” or we hear him say “God’s wonders are surprising” and we say, “what’s the big deal?”
Think about it: everything from an average day to a decent concert is described as “awesome” by someone, the children bring home a spelling test with a word or two misspelled and it is still marked as “excellent job!” by an encouraging teacher, and the use of words like “incredible,” “amazing” and “fantastic” are rampant in the advertisements that fill our every waking moment. Does that detergent really have “amazing powers to clean,” or does it simply clean my clothing? What is so amazing about it? Isn’t a detergent meant to clean, after all? And is this movie really an “incredible story of the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity,” or will I be able to believe it when I see it? If it is truly “incredible” then I couldn’t believe it, right? When’s the last time that you saw an “awesome” dress, had an “awesome” lunch, were part of an “awesome” discussion? Were any of those things really awe-inspiring, overwhelming, breathtaking, or otherwise so magnificent as to cause you to stop and think of God? We use the term “awesome” for anything impressive or good, attractive or pleasing, and then we wonder why we can’t truly be awe-struck anymore. Has our overuse of superlatives simply served to desensitize us to it all?
Sometimes an insight comes from checking several other translations of the passage we are focusing on—what do other versions of the Bible have to say about the superlatives of these verses from Daniel? I was surprised to find that the New Revised Standard Version, King James Version, and New International Version all translate this section “How great are his signs, and mighty his wonders.” Great and mighty aren’t all that exciting or exceptional, are they? But other versions say “His miracles are mighty and marvelous,” “God’s miraculous signs are impressive and God’s power does amazing things,” “Great are his wonders, how powerful his miracles,” and “How wonderful are his miracles, and amazing his power.” You get a sense that various translators are attempting to counter our numbness by finding synonyms that will make us sit up and take notice, something that will remind us of the truly amazing, impressive nature of our God.
We want to be surprised, delighted, awed and moved by God, but we get so surrounded by superlatives that we get lulled into thinking that even God isn’t really all that awesome, that maybe it’s all just overstated. But the psalmist is a perfect corrective to our malady—check your favorite psalm for words like “wonders,” “marvelous,” “awesome,” “wonderful,” “mighty,” “great,” “miracles,” and more. King Nebuchadnezzar was ready to proclaim to everyone, everywhere about the gracious miracles of God. He was able, with the help of Daniel’s sharp interpretation of his dreams, to make it known that God’s miracles are indeed staggering, his wonders surprising. Our upcoming gathering in Grand Rapids in February is a chance to reclaim that belief for ourselves and renew our commitment to sharing that great good news. Come join us, and prepare to be awestruck, amazed and inspired by God in our midst.
Katie Estes Collins is co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in South St. Paul, MN, has been a member of APCE for more than 20 years and currently serves as the North Central regional representative on the APCE cabinet.