Familiarity and Awe
By Anthony Casperson
A small blue box. Nothing but an ancient relic of a bygone era of pre-cell phone England. The door opens and the person before the box looks in. A giant room with flashing lights and various controls greets them. They double-take the outside. Then look within again, mouth agape. “It’s bigger on the inside.” (Except for Clara, who had to be different by calling it “smaller on the outside.”)
This is the standard introduction of the companions to the TARDIS (the Doctor’s time vessel) from the BBC series Doctor Who. Every new companion has this moment of awe, of mind-blowing witness, as their previous life experience fades in light of the truth now before them.
But as they travel with the Doctor to new and strange locations, their initial experience with the TARDIS eventually fades. Oh, it takes some time, but ultimately the awe given to this physics-defying portal to new adventures is eclipsed with the desire to have new adventures outside of it. Places and times, new and wild, become the focus as the refuge of the TARDIS becomes nothing but a door that leads to the new.
The TARDIS is expansive. Investigating it could take years. Rooms unexplored, forgotten until there’s a need for it. Treated as a device of convenience when the need arises instead of the awe-inspiring being that it is. (Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that the TARDIS seems to have a life-force and temperament?)
Eventually, the time comes for the companion to leave the Doctor. Those lucky enough to have survived the adventures outside of the vessel, miss the Doctor and his little blue box, forgetting the awe they once held when that door opened, along with their mouth.
Familiarity, spending a lot of time with a person or a thing, often takes this route. We stand in awe of the amazing features of the new. But those very awe-inspiring features are lost as we focus on new thoughts, new adventures, new people, new places, new things. Like a child on Christmas morning who wants to play every new toy, until the next lands in their lap. And they toss the old to the side.
This past week I experienced a difficult time and ended up in the hospital. While there, I thought about how easy it is to forget God until we need him. Oh, we followers of Jesus appreciate the new adventures God sends us on. We love the new countries we visit as we go on mission trips. We come to rely on the new people who come into our lives because of our relationship with Jesus. We sing songs of praise while driving in our cars.
But the awe-inspiring Being who leads us down this path of life with him becomes eclipsed by the new he brings. The awe we once had as God opened his arms to accept us into his family, his kingdom, a forgotten memory. He remains a vessel of refuge to us as the world beats us down and tries to kill us. We call out to him when we’re sick, injured, hurting, in pain. But the awe of his amazing power has become so familiar to us that it disappears from our vision.
Quite often in the bible, the Israelites dwelt securely in the familiarity of God’s awesome being. But that familiarity led to them taking him for granted. It led them to neglect their diligent worship of the Creator of the universe. And ultimately, it led them to forgetting God and following other gods. The awe of God overtaken by the new.
My desire for us is that we don’t follow the Israelites example in this. That we stand in awe of God every time his arms open to embrace us. That our mouths fall agape in the awe of his love, grace, mercy, healing, refuge, and security.
God is far more than a small blue box on the outside. But his love is awe-inspiringly bigger on the inside.