Monday, August 1, 2016

Splendor and Majesty

The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
Psalm 19:1

The other day I was looking through some old notes and came across a question I had not thought about for some time.

‘What if the primary purpose of the universe is not to be a home for us, but to display the splendor and majesty of God?’

I like questions like this because they really make me think.

As I spent some time thinking about this question I found my thoughts drifting toward a number of online articles related to space I have stumbled across over the last several months: Near Earth Objects, Space X and Virgin Galactic, the Mars Rover, colonies on the Moon and Mars, and most recently the Juno spacecraft arriving at Jupiter.  I’ll admit I have always had some interest in space exploration.  This probably stems from my parents making me stay up to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon when I was two.

I even thought about mankind’s various attempts to explore and understand the universe out there beyond our little planet.  Early astronomers probing the night sky with their telescopes; the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs; the Voyager space probes and; the International Space Station to name a few.

My thoughts also turned to the story of creation.  Genesis 1:3 tells us, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”  He even distinguished a difference between day and night in verse 5.  The rest follows: the firmament on day 2 (vs.6-8); dry land and plants on day 3 (vs. 9-13); Sun, Moon and, stars on day 4 (vs. 14-19); sea creatures and birds on day 5 (vs. 20-23) and; animals, insects and, man on day 6 (vs. 24-31).

But wait, there was light on day 1, but plants came on day 3 and the Sun, Moon and, stars didn’t arrive until day 4.  If He was making plants before there was a Sun and day and night had already been established on day 1, why did we need the Sun, Moon and, stars?  Couldn’t God have just left us with day and night?

I have no doubt that He could have done exactly that.  But…  One of the things I have learned about God is that He always does a little bit more, sometimes a great deal more.  (I give some examples of God’s extravagance in a post in October of 2013.)  In thinking about His extravagance I do believe that is part of why He did not just stop with day and night, but that is only part of the story.  The bible also provides some insight.

Genesis 1:14 tells us, “…and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.”  Signs I found include Jesus referring to the weather in Matthew 16:2-3; the wise men use a star as a sign and a guide in Matthew 2:1-2; Joel 2:30-31 speaks of judgement; and Jesus refers to the passage in Joel when telling the disciple about signs of His return in Matthew 24:29.  Seasons, days, and years most likely refer to the movement of the Earth in relation to the Sun and Moon which give us seasons and a calendar.

Now I don’t want it to look like I am trying to discount scripture or why God did what He did, but I still find myself asking why so much?  Why not just the Sun, Moon, and Earth?  Or just the solar system and some lights in the night sky for reference?  Maybe a bit of perspective on how big things are out there can help here.

Earlier I mentioned the Juno space probe recently arriving at Jupiter.  According to NASA, Juno traveled approximately 1.74 billion miles on its journey, ultimately reaching a speed of a little over 150,000 miles per hour!  (At that speed it would take just under ten minutes to circle the Earth at the Equator.) Even at that speed it still took about five years to complete its journey. And that is just to reach Jupiter. 

Close up shot of Jupiter from Juno

Now this was not a direct path, it followed what is called a heliocentric trajectory. (Heliocentric is a fancy word that describes a journey around the Sun.)  Definitely a long trip but even if you just look at the straight line distance from the Sun (Jupiter 483.6 million miles, Saturn 886.7 million miles, Uranus 1.784 billion miles, Neptune 2.794 billion miles, and Pluto 3.6745 billion miles) the numbers really become hard to wrap your head around, and they are seeing evidence of another planet or some kind of other stellar body even further out beyond Pluto.

But God did not stop there.  He created the entirety of the Universe, which according to scientists is about 46 billion light years (a light year is approximately 6 trillion miles long) across, what they call the ‘observable universe,’ and is filled with over 100 billion galaxies.  Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is only approximately 100,000 light years across with our solar system being just a small speck in our galaxy.  And that was all with the power of His spoken word! 

Not sure if that really helped much.  I don’t make any claim that I can comprehend how big it all is.  I am just trying to make the point that the universe is truly vast no matter how you look at it! 

Turning back to scripture, David tells us in Psalm 19:1, “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Glory…  How about splendor and majesty?  “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend Your works to another, they will tell of Your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and I will meditate on Your wondrous works.” (Psalm 145:3-5)  Wow!  Kind of hard to top that.  It’s like extravagance on steroids.  Could there possibly be anything else?  When I think about all that God is I sincerely believe there is something more.

Very simply, because He loves us.  Not only does God show us His glory here on Earth (Habakkuk 2:14 is a good place to start), and in the heavens (PS 19:1 above), in creating the whole of the universe God shows us His splendor and majesty and in doing so I believe He shows us how much He loves us.  Paul talks about God’s love in his prayer for the Ephesians, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory.” (Eph. 3:17b-21a) 

The description, “wide and long and deep and high” refers to the vastness and completeness of God’s love.  Paul even tells us, “this love surpasses knowledge.”  Basically it is beyond us.  Luckily, God will reveal things to us when we truly seek Him, if for no other reason than because he loves us so much more than we can understand.  Add to that, “Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine.”  This is why I believe that another reason He created the universe the way He did is because of His love for us.  And that is just another truly amazing thing about God.

So, back to the original question: ‘What if the primary purpose of the universe is not to be a home for us, but to display the splendor and majesty of God?’

Splendor and majesty?  Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!  How can I honestly answer anything other than that? But in true Godly fashion, He takes it to another level.  He doesn’t stop there.  He goes immeasurably beyond what we can imagine and shows us how much He loves us.

We don’t have to understand it all, in fact we can’t (Psalm 145:3 and Ephesians 3:19 above), we just need to take it in and let God’s love flow over us.  So the next time you are looking at the delicate complexity of a flower in bloom, the awesome power of a thunder storm rolling across a river valley, or just gazing at the night sky, take a minute.  It’s all there.  If you look you can see it all, not just His boundless love for us but also the splendor and majesty of who He is.  Our Almighty and All Powerful God.