Stars, Beauty and Righteousness

Through all cultures and time, it is a common experience of humanity to stand in awe and wonder gazing into the night sky. So, it should come as no surprise that stars find their way into scripture. The intent of the scripture writers, though, is not merely to document their sense of amazement, but to reveal something about God himself through His creation. In Psalm 19, King David begins by writing:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

It has been my inclination as I read this passage to fill my mind with all the wonders of our universe: images of all the planets and their remarkable moons that came from the space probes, images of skies filled with uncountable stars, images of distant galaxies and star nebulae from the Hubble telescope. I find myself in rapt amazement at their beauty. Then I think of all the typical statistics we hear about the stars – their size, their heat, their distance – all in figures I can recite, but are too large for my brain to reasonably comprehend. In the midst of such contemplation, though, I also find myself in error which is at least twofold.

The first error is subtle – it is to exchange my wonder and amazement of God and his character with my wonder and amazement of the creation. My mind is more filled with images and facts of the universe than it is of God Himself. In a sense I begin worshipping the creation rather than the creator. I realize I need to be more intentional about directing my sense of the aesthetic to reflecting on the character of God: his power, creativity, and design. What modern astronomy has revealed can heighten our appreciation about these characters of God, but such technological assets were not on the minds of the scripture writers. This leads to my second error.

Focusing on the material aspects of the universe actually detracts from the message of the psalmists. Scripture says the universe is declaring the glory of God – what God is really stoked about – and it is not the beauty and vastness of the universe. It says the creation is telling us something about God and His glory, but what? In my initial contemplation, I’m stuck on, “God is big and powerful”, which is true, but there is a great deal more. Reading further Psalm 19 brings us to the point. In David’s view, the universe is telling us that God’s laws (statutes, precepts, commands and decrees) are perfect, trustworthy and righteous, and can bring us refreshment, wisdom, joy and insight. Other authors add to this by explaining that the universe tells us God is righteous and just (Ps 50:6; 71:19, 97:6), He is mighty, to be reveared, and is faithful (Ps 89:5-8).

What? How do you get that by looking at the stars and planets? The psalmists are struck not just with the beauty and immensity of it all, but with its clockwork regularity. The stars, moon and sun operate so mechanically that their position in the sky is predictable day in and day out. If the things in the universe are so dependable, and God is the one who set them in place, then it stands to reason God himself is regular and consistent. These are the prerequisites of being a righteous and faithful God. Asaph writes: “He summons the heavens above…that he may judge his people” (Psalm 50:4). What God has done in the formation of the universe authenticates His ability to judge. God would not be righteous if every other day he changed his mind about what he expects of us, or worse, let us do whatever we wanted. Instead, like the sun that comes up every day, His laws are constant and they yield a benefit to us. Comparing God and the sun, Asaph also writes, “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth” (Psalm 50:2). The beauty is not merely in aesthetic appeal, but that it works well. In a world in which we find constant change and recurring disappointments, God lets us know He is enduringly faithful. Despite our frailty and inconsistency, God promises us to be there regardless. Despite our experience of unfairness or oppression, God lets us know He will bring justice. This is what we should be seeing in the heavens.

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