Rich Mullins (1955-1997) was a Christian recording artist and song writer who grew up among Quakers in Indiana and remained faithful to the Quaker tradition throughout his life—but who also came to the place where he understood that faithfulness to God was more important than denominational loyalty.
Mullins’ songs have been performed by a number of Christian musicians, including such luminaries as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.
Mullins was inspired to write this song by various Old Testament references to “a great and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 7:21; 10:17, 21; Nehemiah 1:5; 4:14; 9:32; Psalm 47:2; Daniel 9:4).
The word that is translated “awesome” is the Hebrew yare (pronounced yah-RAY)—a word that is sometimes translated “fear” (“The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge” Proverbs 1:7). It acknowledges that the person who has seen the Lord’s power at work will be inspired to have a powerful reverence for the Lord—the kind of deep respect that I have for electrical power lines.
Perhaps a better translation for yare would be “awe-inspiring.”
In the New Testament, the Greek word phobos, usually translated “fear” or “terror,” is sometimes translated “awe,” because fear, awe, and reverence are closely related.
“Awesome God” became a monster hit, and Mullins eventually adopted it as his signature song—but he thought of it as one of his most poorly crafted songs. Nevertheless, he understood that the Lord can take our more modest efforts and make something wonderful out of them. While this song wasn’t one of his best songs—in fact was, by his lights, one of his worst—it has nevertheless inspired millions of people to acknowledge God as awesome, fearsome, and awe-inspiring.
I tend to agree with Mullins assessment of his song. It isn’t a wonderfully crafted song, and I find the repetition of the word awesome to be cloying. I remember writing a camp director who managed to work the word awesome into nearly every sentence of his welcoming speech to a new group. I commented that awesome is a powerful word that loses effectiveness as it is repeated over and over and over again. In that sense, it is like lipstick. A little bit can make a woman look better, but too much looks cheap and garish. That’s how I feel about this song. But, like Mullins, I must acknowledge that the Lord has used this song to bless millions of people.
And who am I to question the Lord?
Mullins was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1997, just a month prior to his 42nd birthday. His Jeep rolled over and Mullins and a friend were thrown out. A truck, trying to miss the Jeep, struck and killed Mullins. A large crowd turned out for his funeral, acknowledging that he meant so much to so many. However, we continue to be blessed by his music—and one day we will see him again in glory.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan