My son ripped open the present with all the glee that a child can muster early on Christmas morning. His Apaw (Grandpa) sent him something special: a telescope from National Geographic.
My son is a big science kid, and is especially interested in the stars and planets. That night, we set the telescope up on the back deck. The waning moon beamed down on the yard, so bright we saw shadows. Wrapped in jackets over pajamas, and boots over wool socks, he peered into a lens that peered into a lens that peered into a lens that magnified what no human eye could see. His breath caught as he stood stock-still. “Dad, I can see craters!” When he finally let me have a turn, I saw them, too. The sun’s light on the moon’s surface illuminated countless craters, scoops from rock and dirt thousands of miles away. Each one was thousands of years old and exactly as it appeared when it was young, a living photograph. There was a tug on my sleeve. “Dad?” As I pulled away from the telescope, my eyes came back to earth. “Can we do a star next?”
When the ancients considered the heavens, they were often afraid. It’s hard to blame them. The size and scope of it all, the blackness of the night sky, and the endless blue of the day, were no doubt hard to fathom without our modern instrumentation. It must have felt like standing at the edge of an endless cliff, right in front of you, without explanation, seemingly without beginning or end.
Humanity now stands on another such edge. We have launched the Webb telescope, factors of thousands more powerful than its predecessors, and by its mirrored eyes we see things hidden from the foundations of the world with razor sharp clarity. Beautiful, yes, but vast, seemingly infinite, and on its surface, empty and void of life.
The Scriptures admonish us that when we consider the heavens and the works of God’s hands, our response should not be fear. The heavens declare his glory, says Psalm 19, and we should worship God for his wonderful design. But I saw something in my son that day that made me wonder if we are missing something; something hidden between the whirring galaxies overhead.
It’s something G.K. Chesteron once quipped about Jesus., who pointed not only to the heavens, but to the lilies, the sparrows, and the details of our lives, reminding us that they said something profound about his Father. And yet, there was something Jesus could not tell us, something we were not ready for. Chesterton put it this way:
“There was something that [Jesus] hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon the earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his [joy].”
The heavens declare his glory, no doubt, but I have also begun to wonder if they shout his joy, too. The universe, as it always has, will continue to befuddle us. Every new mystery unlocked leads to hundreds more. The more we see of it, the less we understand. The Scriptures, for their part, never tell us precisely what the heavens are, but they do tell us something of what they mean.
And I think they mean, in part, to give us a hint at God’s capacity for joy. Through this lens, we might begin to understand that the mind-bending size and scope of a galaxy so large it would take hundreds of millions of years for any human to traverse, simply means the galaxy was made for Someone else’s delight.
It may mean that the trillions of stars, nebulae, quasars, and black holes together represent a power, a design, and a joy that we simply are not yet ready for. It may even mean that when the apostle reminds us that there is a weight of glory to be revealed in each one of God’s children, that if we were to see it now, we would not believe he meant it. How could we believe it, when we can barely understand the stars themselves?
There are times, unlike my son, when I look in that telescope and recoil at what I see. The universe, we know, does not go on forever, but it might as well. The earth, this small rock in a small galaxy in a tiny corner of it all, seems pretty insignificant in comparison. It can make you feel lonely, isolated, and meaningless.
Life can do this, too. We may feel small compared to the news, our problems, our fears, and anxieties. Perhaps you find yourself discouraged today. Afraid. Out of control. Unseen or unknown. Remember with me that the heavens declare the glory of God, the joy and delight of God, which he promises one day to fully share. This life is preparing you for it. So keep waiting. Keep watching. Keep looking up.