For all those who had eyes to see, the solar eclipse on Monday, August 26th, gave them more than an opportunity to witness a natural phenomenon. For millions of believers, the spectacular event gave them another glimpse of the glory of God, and for many of us it called to remembrance the many songs of praise we find in the Book of Psalms, declaring the majesty of the mighty Maker of the universe (i.e. the universe as we know it) – and far beyond what we know, what we have been able to observe, scientists are now telling us that there are other “universes” we do not know, in the vastness of outer space which has no beginning and no end. How can we possibly wrap our minds around such a staggering scientific discovery?
Although the psalmist was far more limited than we are, in this scientific age, in his primitive understanding of the whole created order, he was still overcome with a sense of awe and wonder when he considered the glory of God “above the heavens”, as manifested in the night sky (Psalm 8): “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” He was equally awestruck when he wrote these words that followed, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are we human beings that you are mindful of us, mere mortals, that you should care for us? Yet you have made us a little lower than God“ (the KJV translates verse five “a little lower than angels“, but the RSV gets it right: “…a little lower than God”) – the word is “Elohim,” one of the Hebrew names for God in the Old Testament). That too is an affirmation of faith that is difficult to grasp, a truth that also staggers the imagination.
When the psalmist scanned the heavens we human beings initially seemed so tiny and insignificant to him, when seen in the context of the whole of creation. However, he was inspired to write these incredible words about humankind, “You have crowned us with glory and honor. You have given us dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under our feet” (verses 5-6). This is an amazing truth that we find “in the beginning” in the book of Genesis, when our Creator God is described as saying, following the creation of all other things, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness (the plural “us” and “our” probably refers to the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons, the holy Trinity, which means “tri-unity”, one in three), and let them have dominion over all the earth…over everything on the earth” (i.e. everything that God has made – Genesis 1:26-31). The author of the Genesis account of creation tells us that God created “two great lights” (the sun and the moon), the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, and the stars” (1:16), and finally created humankind to rule the earth (i.e. to “have dominion” over the earth, to govern, to care for, to protect and preserve the earth, our home in the heavens) (Genesis 1:26-30). So, the Bible not only affirms our value as creatures made in the image of God, but also declares a corresponding responsibility to be faithful partners with our Creator in His continuing creation on planet Earth. A childhood friend and playmate, Wendell Berry, who has become a well known and highly respected author, conservationist, and advocate for the protection and preservation of this special planet, in one of his more recent books, OUR ONLY WORLD, offers many practical ways for all of us to share responsibly in caring for the earth, for the land and its resources, that our Creator God has given us to use carefully, and no longer abuse carelessly, to nurture and protect, as responsible stewards. I recommend his writings to all of you who share a growing concern for the future of this world God has entrusted to us.
Suffice it to say, the author of Genesis got it right when he declared that all human beings are creatures of God, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-20), spiritual beings into whom God has breathed a part of Himself (Genesis 2:7). The psalmist also got it right when he called upon the whole created order to proclaim the glory of the Creator, whose glory above the heavens and the earth, “Praise him sun and moon, praise him you shining stars! Praise him you highest heavens….Praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever; he fixed their bounds (i.e. their “paths”, their orbits), which cannot be passed…Praise the Lord from the earth, for his name alone is exalted, his glory is above earth and heaven” (Psalm 148). All things in the heavens, and all things are the earth, are summoned to join in one great chorus of praise to the Lord our God! I cannot help but wonder how many people got it right on that day when millions of people lifted their eyes heavenward to behold the moon blotting out the sun, when day became as night in areas of totality, when temperatures dropped, when birds stopped chirping, when all creatures great and small were running around confused by the strange thing that was happening so early in the day. My wife and I were standing in the parking lot of our apartment complex, to which we moved last year, wearing those special glasses to protect our eyes from the burning and blinding light of the sun, and I thought to myself that they were a suitable metaphor to illustrate that millions of people are wearing blinders every day of their lives that prevent them from beholding the glory of God, the greatness of the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the One who created the sun, the moon, the stars, and each of us. On the day of the eclipse everyone who stood gazing into heaven realized they were a part of something big, but I wonder how many were thinking, “How big is God? Not only how big and wide His vast creation, the sun and the moon which He established, the whirling planets in their orbits, but how big is the One who created all things in the heavens and on the earth?”
I also wonder how many are alarmed that we continue to threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care, that we continue to violate the image of God in ourselves and others, that we continue to exploit neighbor and nature.
Finally, I wonder how many among us are really aware of the unspeakable gift and privilege of being here on planet Earth at this moment in time, blessed with the capacity to be living testaments to the glory of God, by becoming “children of God” (not just creatures of God – see John 1:12-13), using our gifts wisely as faithful servants of God and responsible stewards of the Earth?
God has promised to reward those who fulfill their purpose as bearers of the divine nature, created to reflect His image, and commissioned to take care of the Earth He has given us, and to take care of one another as members of His human family – but God has also warned that His wrath will come upon those “who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18), as well as upon those who do not do justly and show mercy, for they “will go away into eternal punishment” – but the righteous will enter “into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). I wonder how many have ears to hear and to heed the Word of God?