“Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight…”
The children’s poem came to mind last week. Under my feet was the cool grass of the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort, South Africa. But this night we weren’t looking at the birds or the plants. Our focus was the heavens, and I learned amazing new things.
That “first star I see tonight” has a name. It’s called Sirius, the brightest star visible from any point on Earth. It is 8.6 light years away, or 8.6 x 5.8 trillion miles distant from our planet. It is a white star, of much greater size and intensity than our own Sun, which is only a medium-sized yellow star.
Likewise, the Hubble telescope keeps capturing images of space that take our breath away, glimpses of the enormity of the cosmos:
In A Short History of Nearly Everything (Doubleday, 2003), Bill Byron dazzles the reader with a fascinating description of how the stars, planets, and all that is suddenly sprang into existence:
In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception…In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast….in three minutes, 98 percent of all matter there is or ever will be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich. – p. 28
The Psalmist was no less impressed than Mr Byron, marveling:
When I look up at your skies and what your fingers have made – the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place – what are human beings, that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? (Psalm 8:3, CEB).
There is a tendency these days in theology to size-down God. It’s a convenient way to solve the problem of evil and suffering: “Maybe a good God doesn’t always act because God can’t.” But after an evening gazing at the stars, that explanation loses whatever small attraction it might have held. When the heavens declare a mind-blowing, awesome, immensely powerful Creator God, how could I ever believe in a puny god like some Christians seem to half-heartedly serve?
Goodbye, puny god. Hello, majestic God of the universe!
But like the Psalmist dared paint his tiny self onto this boundless cosmic canvas, so I hazard to ask:
If God could fling stars into space, what could this God of love do in my life? Could this God in Jesus Christ forgive me, deliver me, change me, energize me to make a difference on this tiny speck of a planet we call Earth?
Likewise, a fresh vision of this beyond-my-imagination God is bound to deepen my intensity in worship. How can I, a mere grain of sand in the vast scheme of things, come lightly into the presence of such a fearsome Triune God? How dare I stand in the sanctuary and play with text messages, FaceBook or a dozen other distractions when in the presence of such a Being?
Get outside. Get away from the city lights. Look up, but I warn you: Your puny god will be no more. Instead, you will be drawn to your knees in praise of our magnificent Creator God.
UPDATE: I changed the light year reference to 5.8 trillion rather than 1 trillion miles. See the comment from Lucien Jacquet below, who corrects that and a few other scientific details.
Ultra Deep Field: Hubble Site Gallery