Posted in reflections

Goodbye, puny god

Sirius, the brightest star in Earth's sky
Sirius, the brightest star in Earth’s sky

“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:

Hubble Ultra Deep Field, 2014

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.

Image credits


Ultra Deep Field: Hubble Site Gallery


Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

6 thoughts on “Goodbye, puny god

  1. A few technical comments that in no way detract from (and are not intended to) the meaning and impact of the piece:

    * You imply that a light year is 1 trillion miles, when it is actually ~5.8 trillion miles
    * Sirius is “only” twice the size of our sun, although it is 25 times as bright.
    * Sirius is actually a binary system of two stars; some have suggested a third, but this has never been proven. The second star is about the same size as our sun and cannot be seen with the naked eye.
    * Our sun appears yellow to us because of the way the Earth’s atmosphere scatters light. It is the same effect that makes the sky appear blue. In space – away from the atmosphere – the sun would simply appear white to human eyes, although analysis reveals that it actually emits more light energy in the greenish part of the spectrum than any other.

    You can take the boy out of the Physics lab…

  2. Amen to this post, Greg!
    Also, as Jesus said that His Father is still creating and the Apostle Paul says that God is re-creating and ask His redeemed to assist Him in the re-creating of a New Earth. Any Amens???

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