My son loves space. His room is decked out with posters of constellations and planets. He has glow-in-the-dark star stickers plastered all over the ceiling so that the night sky lights up when the room is dark. We have the plastic planets hanging from the ceiling in the right order as they appear in our galaxy. Last year we bought him a nice telescope for his birthday so that he can see the moon and some planets with greater detail. It gave us great joy when he went nuts over seeing a couple of Jupiter’s moons one evening.
A couple of weeks ago we decided to take our sky-viewing to the next step. Wheaton College has open observatory nights. Anyone from the public can come in for free and look at the planets or constellations. We were very excited. We knew we would see some amazing things. When we arrived they had several telescopes set up. My son exclaimed “oh my goodness” on numerous occasions as he saw the moon (it seemed like it was 2 feet away), some stars, and planets (we saw 4 of Jupiter’s moons). If this was not amazing enough, the helpers mentioned that a professor was opening up the big telescope. This would allow you to see some distant galaxies. So, we waited around for a little while. Then, they opened it up. They have a camera hooked up so that the images can be sent to a computer screen. He showed us the dome opening up and how the telescope rotates. Then we sat affixed at a computer screen waiting to see some galaxies. We saw not one but three: the Orion Nebula, M51, and M81. In order to capture the pictures, you have to stand still in the room as the data is collected. Any movement (even a small step) can distort the picture. My son stood there holding his breath so that a good picture could be taken. His eyes were captivated. You can see the joy leaping from his face. Here is one of the pictures of M51:
My son now has some real posters in his room!
I am amazed as I think how close yet how far the galaxies were to us. The M51 Galaxy is 23,160,000 light years from earth. 23 million light years! Yet, the pictures made them look so near to us! It seemed like thousands of miles away not millions. When we looked at the moon, it was so vivid that I thought I could reach around the telescope and grab a chunk of it. Yet, it is so far away.
This tension makes me think of God on many levels. He created these galaxies that are millions of light years away. And these are the galaxies that we can see! The universe is so huge. It is expansive. And if the universe is this massive, how much larger is the One who created it. Scripture tells us that God holds the stars in place. I liken it to a person picking up a grain of sand. The dichotomy of size is noticeable. Looking at these galaxies made me feel so small when compared to God. (This is actually a good place to be). Yet, the bible also tells me that God knows my every thought. He has the hair on my head numbered. He has perfect clarity as to my future. God is so massively large yet He knows me so intimately. I am humbled by this reality. God knows me intimately. Over the years I have heard numerous people get frustrated at God because of something that has happened in their lives. They get frustrated at Him. They accuse Him. The irony is that these emotions are only possible because He has drawn near to us. He has made himself known in such an intimate way (the incarnation of Jesus) that we take His greatness for granted. Yes, I am struck afresh that God’s largeness and nearness are not opposites but beautiful truths that affirm how worthy of worship He is!