God stretches out Zaphon over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing. He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not torn open by them. He covers the face of the full moon, and spreads over it his cloud. He has described a circle on the face of the waters, at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astounded at his rebuke. By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. These are indeed but the outskirts of his ways; and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?
I can remember the first time I saw it! I was a little boy and holding my mother’s hand waiting for my father to return late from irrigating the cotton. I saw the Milky Way! I felt I could reach out my hand and touch it as it glowed so brilliantly. Far from the city lights the galaxy lit up the whole sky, prompting me to ask what it was I was seeing for the first time. My mother explained that it was the light of many stars, and it was like God had spilled milk from one end of His sky to the other.
That might have been the first time in my life that I was summoned to wonder. But then, isn’t one of the graces of being a little child that the world is continuously throwing wonder at us! Now that I am in my ‘second childhood’ I make it a practice to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way as often as I can. No less today, than when an infant, the Milky Way stirs deep wonder in me.
Through the Hubble Telescope we have seen pictures of “hundreds of thousands of other galaxies” besides our own Milky Way. Astronomers tell us that the Milky Way is an average size galaxy, but still it is 100,000 light years in diameter. Along with the Sun the Milky Way contains 100,000,000,000 stars. If you tried to count all these starts, counting at the rate of one star every second, it would take you more than 3,170 years to count them. And that’s just our Milky Way! Carl Sagan in the PBS series, Cosmos, said: “There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on the earth”. Think about that the next time you sink your toes into the sand on the beach, or drive across the endless desert.
In today’s Scripture Job is rapt in wonder at the mystery of all of this. Suffering though he is, he marvels at God’s effortless creation of the world. He marvels at how God hangs the earth on nothing, draws the boundaries between light and darkness, shakes the mountains, and destroys imagined deities opposed to Him.
As wonder-ful as God’s works are, Job notes that they are but “the outskirts of his ways”. He adds that they are only “small a whisper” of “the thunder of his power”. The daily and the nightly wonders that so stun us, are but faint outlines of God’s inherent majesty. Hold on, we haven’t seen nothin’ yet!
Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel always refreshes me with his child-like delight at the wonder of God. In his book, God in Search of Man, Heschel wrote: “The root of religion is the question of what to do with feeling for the mystery of living, what to do with awe, wonder, and amazement”.
My spiritual journey is the story of what I have done with the wonder that overwhelmed me that night as I first saw the Milky Way. Each day my story continues with what I do with the still greater wonder of God’s redemptive love for me. Yes, the heavens display to the world the glory of God, but the Cross lights up all the Cosmos!
I frequently confess my sin as a minister of having bored people with the wonder we call God. I repent for having made God’s Good News sometimes sound like bad news. I acknowledge having tried to reduce the infinite God to my neat theological boxes. And those times that I suffer, those times I doubt the ways of God, I pray with suffering Job: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). It’s beyond my pay grade!
I always keep close at hand the poem by Walt Whitman, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:
When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide,
and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, when he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
- What stirs wonder in you at this moment?
- What do you want to do with the wonder?
- What do you want to say to God about the wonder?
- How do you awaken wonder in you each day?
photo by LJ Mears