Eyes Wide Open
“I always open mine [eyes] as wide as I ever can, because I think I can see God in all the works of his hands, and what God has taken the trouble to make I think I ought to take the trouble to look at.”
Charles Spurgeon (Sermon 3392 Justification)
The Bible is clear that one of the ways God reveals Himself to us is through the universe He created (Psalm 19:1-2). God’s creation not only showcases His handiwork, but also provides insight into who He is. Romans 1:19-20 says “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” We are living in an age where the scope of nature we can observe and the level of detail we can discern is wider and deeper than ever before — whether looking through a telescope or microscope or anything in between. This is both an incredible gift and a substantial responsibility.
Because the heavens declare His glory, what insights about God can we take away from the images coming back from the most powerful telescope ever built which became operational in the summer of 2022, the James G Webb Space Telescope (JWST)? Here are some thoughts to get the conversation started:
- He is God of order and consistency, not of chaos. Images from the JWST are revealing that the furthest away, and therefore the earliest visible galaxies (due to how long it takes their light to reach us) are surprisingly ordered - more than previously thought possible by most scientists. Yet this finding is consistent with the overall direction of scientific discovery - from the astronomy of galaxies to the quantum physics of subatomic particles - there is order and design on display at every level. And the order is remarkably consistent. The laws of physics, such as gravity, operate on earth just as they do in other solar systems, and galaxies - and have operated consistently as far back as we are able to discern. And what we learn from the scriptures is that these attributes are not only aligned with how God reveals himself in the Bible, but they work to substantiate His character and promises — “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6. “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8. “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stares up the sea so that its waves roared—the Lord of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Jeremiah 31:35-36.
- His promises extend beyond what we can see. In Genesis, 22:17 when God promised Abraham “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore”, He cast a vision of His providence that was far larger than Abraham could have possibly imagined. It’s estimated that the number of stars Abraham could physically see with an unaided eye at the time was in the thousands. Still a remarkable promise to an elderly man who had no children at the time and a wife well beyond child-bearing years. By comparison, the total number of grains of sand on every seashore must have seemed to Abraham like an even more incredible outcome, even though now we know now that the number of stars in the universe likely have the grains of sand on earth outnumbered. The JWST is revealing stars that we couldn’t see before because they were beyond our capability to detect - but they were there all along. Just as even after Isaac and Jacob were born, Abraham still had to rely on faith for the remainder of the promise, so we too must have faith that the full promises of God extend beyond our ability to fully discern on this side of heaven. His generous grace and promises defy our comprehension (they are unquantifiable, which I believe is part of God’s point), but at the same time they are as real as the sky above our head and the ground beneath our feet.
- He is a God of majesty and wonder. There is an overwhelming sense of awe when you take a minute to look at the pictures from the JWTS and consider the scale of what you are seeing. From stellar nurseries, to pulsars, to previously undetectable exoplanets — whether Christian or Atheist, scientist or casual observer, the beauty and grandeur of these images is uniformly mind blowing. It’s instructive to consider what the opposite would look like — what if the only star was our sun, and the landscape of the earth was as barren as Mars? God could have created an incredibly bland universe, or a universe that was opaque to observation from intelligent life. But He didn’t. Instead of one star He created trillions upon trillions. Instead of one color, His design ordained over 10 million our human eyes can distinguish. Instead of one species of plants and animals on earth He created over a combined 9 million. Why? Maybe because His character is neither dull, nor stingy, but is filled with such creative potency that our universe is literally bursting at its seams. What He declares to us through the heavens is a daily reminder of the unfathomable generosity of His grace which only leaves room for two distinct responses: We can either discount His handiwork as the accidental byproduct of random chance and count our “lucky stars” that we are even here to observe it, or we can drop to our knees in worship of the Ancient of Days who called each star by name before time began (Psalm 147:3).
One final point — God is not threatened by anything man can discover. There is nothing in the universe that surprises Him or has Him concerned. It’s all His. All of scientific discovery, in its purest sense, is just the unpacking of what He’s already done (and is continuing to do) and our increasing knowledge of His creative work only brings increasing honor and glory to Him as the designer, builder, and sustainer of all things. He is a God who actively makes Himself known to us, whether in the pages of scripture, the person and life of Jesus Chris, or the beauty of creation — all mediated through the work of the Holy Spirit, so that we, His Children, whom He’s also called by name before time began (Eph 1:4), might walk with Him more fully. So let’s walk with our eyes wide open.
(JWST picture from the NASA website showing one of the furthest/earliest stars observed to date, Earendel, a tiny red dot in a thin red arc at about the 4 o’clock position from the bright start in the middle of the frame. The use of this still image falls within NASA’s general permission for non-commercial image use.)