On a recent trip to Alabama and Tennessee, I passed by this church sign, which paraphrases Psalm 139:14:
I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well. (American King James Version)
The word “fearfully” immediately caught my eye for two reasons. One, why would I praise anything that made me afraid? Two, I’d recently been working on “How I’m made,” a chapter in my nonfiction book in which I examine my physical abilities and limitations and question my perceptions about them. I already know I’m wonderfully made. So what does “fearfully made” mean?
I did a Google search and put on my hip waders to splash around in some Christian theology. I can’t claim a full understanding of or agreement with everything I read. But here are my takeaways:
- The original Hebrew word for fear in this passage, “yare,” can be translated in a positive or negative way. So never, ever, ever trust a single interpretation of a word, especially where the Bible is concerned.
- The negative meanings are dread and terror and typical yucky stuff.
- The positive meanings are awe, astonishment, honor, reverence, and respect; “a special nuance of reverential awe or worshipful respect becomes the dominant notion.”
- “Fear” really means awe: an acknowledgement and recognition of whatever amazing power created our wonderful, unique forms, as well as an acknowledgement of the power our wonderful, unique forms hold to do great harm, or great good.
Darling Magazine summarizes the meaning of the verse nicely:
“In the original Hebrew text of the Bible, the word fearfully means: with great reverence, heart-felt interest and with respect. The word wonderfully means: unique, set apart, marvelous.”
This jives nicely with something I’ve long believed: that each of us is unique in our combination of talents and abilities (wonderfully made), and that it’s our mission in life to discover how to use these qualities for a higher purpose (fearfully made).
This church sign, completely out of the blue, reminded me that my body is in fact wonderfully made despite its flaws and limitations, and that I don’t always treat it with the respect, reverence and care that it deserves.
It’s a reminder that I will find the most fulfillment in sports, recreation and movement that play to my body’s natural strengths: I’m slow, I’m strong, and I’m powerful. And I’ll strive to use that power for good, not evil.