In the summer of 2001, I taught astronomy to kids at a camp in rural Texas. Night after night, on the camp’s stargazing platform, these city kids would often gasp with wonder at the brilliance of the night sky. Stars are just as wondrous for adults as for children – perhaps even more so, as our adult imaginations are often starved for the kind of mystery and beauty that stars convey. And so, as David preaches on creation, fall, and restoration this fall, let’s turn our eyes heavenward and contemplate all the stars have to teach us:
- God’s vastness and mystery. On a clear night in Arlington, we might see a few dozen stars. If we were to drive out to the Shenandoah, we may see a stunning thousand or two. These stars are so far away that it takes their light hundreds, thousands, even millions of years to reach us; thus, looking at the stars is looking back in time. The light we see from some stars began its journey to our eyes before man discovered fire or Columbus sailed to America. But even these stars are only a tiny fraction of all the stars that exist, each one enormous. Our sun, itself a modestly sized star, could hold a million Earths. Our galaxy alone holds over a hundred billion stars, and is only one of billions of galaxies in the universe. In the far reaches of the known universe, quasars emit the energy of trillions of suns; pulsars emit radio waves with more precision than atomic clocks; and black holes exert so much gravity that time nearly stands still in their presence. The sheer size of the universe, the mind-bending conflation of space and time, the million “why?”s that the stars provoke – all of these cause us to marvel at the extraordinary power and vastness and otherness of the God who created it all.
- God’s intimacy. Contemplating the immensity of the universe could make God seem distant, complex, inaccessible. But instead, the Bible describes an intimate creator, a God who has counted and named every single star – including the thousand that are still being created every second. He has ordered each star’s birth, life, and death, and given it a specific place in the sky. He is the infinite and mysterious God of the heavens, yes, but he is also an intimate God, naming and knowing and carefully tending his creation.
- God’s artistry. The Bible calls the stars God’s handiwork, and describes them with the sensory language of craftsmanship: they are spread, stretched, knit across the sky. In return, these beautifully crafted entities are described repeatedly as singing for joy. In creating the stars, God used the tools of the artist, the craftsman, the musician, to adorn the sky with billions upon billions of glorious worshipers.
- God’s story. The entire drama of God’s story unfolds in the stars. When he creates the world, he begins with the sun, moon, and stars. When God wants to convey the enormity of his promise to Abraham, he leads him out under the night sky and directs his gaze at the stars. When his prophets foretell impending judgment, they describe stars being darkened, the heavens being torn and shaken. When he wants to announce the birth of his son, he tells a story in the night sky so compelling that Eastern astronomers leave their homes and journey for months to find the king announced in the stars. And in Revelation, when he reveals to John a sweeping vision of all history, he casts stars as the key actors – from Satan and a third of the stars being cast out of heaven, to Jesus, himself the Bright Morning Star, cradling seven stars in his hand, coming again to make all things new.
- Our story. Carl Sagan famously wrote in Cosmos that “we are made of starstuff.” It is mind-boggling to imagine that the same elements necessary to all life on earth, including every atom in our bodies, are in the dusty nebulae from which stars are birthed. From this stardust, God lavishes beauty, creativity, story, and individuality upon billions of stars in the heavens. But amazingly, he lavishes even more upon us, assembling these same elements into human lives crafted in his image, and beckoning us into relationship with him as beloved sons and daughters. He even invites us into the act of creation and redemption, telling us to shine as stars as we hold out his life-giving word to a dark world. How humbling it is to find ourselves merely specks in an enormous universe, yet specks that are fully known, heard, and loved by the God who spoke it all into being.
Madeliene L’Engle once wrote that the ancient understanding of the word “disaster” was, quite literally, separation (dis-) from stars (-aster). In many ancient cultures, stars were believed to be deities themselves, or lights carried by invisible gods in the sky. While we no longer believe the stars are capable of controlling our fates, the ancient meaning of “disaster” still has the feel of truth; for our self-imposed separation from the stars (by pollution, electric lighting, urbanization, etc) can indeed be disastrous to our contemplation of God.
Stargazing can be an incredible source of wonder, humility, and joy. Over the coming weeks, why not take a few moments to intentionally sit beneath the stars and regain a small bit of that wonder? Take a walk after dinner. Drive an hour west and park the car for a while. Take advantage of the upcoming church retreat, far from city lights, and sit under the night sky with a pair of binoculars brought from home (telescopes are rarely needed for most sky observation). In the meantime, we’ll be providing a few small opportunities to access the stars through various art forms – from images on the screens at church to words and images on this blog – so stay tuned! We hope that these opportunities will allow us all to join with the stars in songs of worship to our creator.
– Amy Rowe