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July 2014 • The Heavens Declare His Glory

July 9, 2014

     The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures clearly affirm the writer’s words in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” In Hebrews 11:3 these words are written: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” And the Apostle Paul expresses this central truth in Colossians 1:16: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.”

     The Apostle John begins his gospel by saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1–3).
It was God’s command that brought time, space, atoms, and all material of all the worlds into existence. The universe, all material in creation, exploded into existence at God’s command (Big Bang?) and has been expanding ever since. The biblical writer is telling us that time, space, and material (atoms) did not exist until God called them into existence and He is the God of continuing creation. Again John put it beautifully in Revelation 4:11: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” And what a great creation it is!
     Have you ever stepped outside on a clear cool night to behold God’s great wonders of creation in the heavens? How marvelous is the sky as you behold some six thousand stars and the great Milky Way, our home galaxy. With a pair of binoculars or a small telescope you can see thousands more stars, planets, and even other solar systems such as our twin galaxy, Andromeda which is two and a half million light years away and twice as large as the Milky Way. Of course, some planets such as Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn can be seen with the natural eye.

     In 2009, NASA launched the Kepler Telescope in the search for other star systems with planets and so far have identified over 1200 possible planets that orbit sun-like stars, which raises the question of possible life elsewhere in the universe. Even with the fabulous Hubble Telescope, astronomers cannot see the edge of the known universe. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 light-years wide and 10,000 light-years through its center.
     Currently, we are exploring the planets of our solar system such as Mars with probes on its surface such as Curiosity and Opportunity. The probe Dawn has sent back pictures in stunning detail of an asteroid (Vesta) in 2011–2012, orbiting the asteroid for several months. The space probe Cassini was launched in 1997 and has enabled scientists to have a close-up look at the beautiful icy and rocky rings of Saturn as well as some of the many moons of Jupiter (65), and its giant red spot, a gaseous storm so large that the entire earth could be dropped into it with room to spare. Voyager I was launched in 1977 on missions to Jupiter and Saturn and left our solar system in 2013, making it the first man-made object to enter interstellar space. Voyager II visited the planet Neptune in 1989, revealing large storms on its surface with winds of 1300 miles per hour. The New Horizons spacecraft was launched in 2006 and will reach Pluto in 2015, exploring and pushing our knowledge of God’s great creation beyond our imaginations!
     The God that we serve and the God of the Bible is not a local tribal god who can be pinned down to some local mountain, or culture-bound or time-bound formula. Let us remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8–9). Nobody can second-guess God, and we humans certainly cannot tell Him how He should have done creation! Today, scientists can only describe what God has done so far as they can understand what He has done. It is the task of science to explore how and why the universe is as it is and how it works, whether it is the “Big Bang” at the beginning of creation or exploring the depths of life here on earth or the search for life elsewhere.
     It is God who created the universe, however it came into existence, and all things therein, and it is He who sustains this universe by His word as He gives life to all that is alive as is stated in Nehemiah 9:6: God is the one who “…hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein….” whether it be on earth or on some distant planet in the far reaches of time and space.
     All truth is of God, whether we agree with it or disagree with it. If it is truth, which sometimes does not fit our boxes, it is truth and God is the source of all truth and enlightenment of mind and spirit and heart. Too often in the past, the church has been on the opposite side of truth. The story of Galileo (1564–1642) and the telescope is a prime example of this when he was imprisoned and threatened with torture if he continued teaching the Copernican system that the earth moves around the sun, and bitterly opposed Galileo’s report on sunspots. In 1632 he published his masterpiece, A Dialogue on the Two Principle Systems of the World. He was called before the Inquisition and after a long trial, the Church officials forced him to recant. He was placed under house arrest and watched for the rest of his life. (At least he did not suffer the fate of Giordano Bruno in 1584 who was burned at the stake for heresy, believing that innumerable suns exists, innumerable earths revolve around these suns and that possibly living beings inhabit these worlds!) It would be well to remember the words of Alfred North Whitehead: “If you have had your attention directed to the novelties of thought in your own lifetime, you will have observed that almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.” (1925). Two centuries ago the idea of stones (meteorites) falling from the sky was dismissed as folklore!
     Some months ago, the Roman Catholic Church released a statement saying that belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life and the Christian faith are not incompatible. God is the Creator of all things and all life, wherever it may be found. Science and theology addressed two different sets of questions and it is our task to integrate those two disciplines into a rational sense of reality.
      Our galaxy contains possibly 400 billion stars and there are perhaps 200 billion galaxies, some far larger than our Milky Way, each with its billions of stars. With the aid of the Hubble Telescope, breathtaking images of the heavens can be brought into our homes by television as we marvel at God’s great creation. Other telescopes will be launched into space over the next few years such as the James Webb Space Telescope (2018) that will increase our knowledge of God’s great creation on an even greater scale as scientists continue to explore such anomalies as “black holes” where gravity is so great that even light cannot escape its pull, or “dark matter” which seems to compose so much of what we think of as empty space in the universe. Some scientists think that 68% of the universe is made up of “dark matter.”
     The SETI program is set up to search for evidence of life around distant stars and planets by listening for any patterned radio signals that might be directed toward planet Earth. A number of scientists and astronauts such as Dr. Edgar Mitchell, lunar module pilot for Apollo14 who became the sixth man to walk on the moon, and the late Gordon Cooper (Mercury-Atlas 9) have been vocal about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, as well as Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17 commander.
      If an “E.T.” is ever detected, whether by some radio signal or a possible visit, it would be one of the most important events in human history. If God created life on this planet (which is our affirmation as the Scriptures affirm), why would He not also perhaps create life elsewhere in this great universe which He has created? It is certainly an interesting possibility!
     Dr. Bernard Oliver, a long-time associate of the SETI program, has remarked on the possibility that an “interconnecting galactic community of advanced cultures may already exist” (Ian Ridpath, Message from the Stars, p. 243). At least it is interesting to think about the possibility that God may have already created advanced technological, cultural, and spiritual species somewhere in this magnificent universe who may be looking at our star, the sun, and wondering “Is anybody out there?”
     Indeed, the heavens and the earth declare the glory of God! The Bible is a book that addresses the question of who is God, what is our relationship to Him and to all the creation He has made. It calls us into relationship with the Creator who has come into our world in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Our faith and the Scriptures call us to follow Jesus Christ as Lord of all creation and to rest in that faith knowing that He holds all creation in His hands and He is the ultimate source of all truth, however new and strange it may seem to us as we seek to understand His great creation and think His thoughts after Him. Let us remember that all truth, wisdom, and knowledge if of God (Prov. 8:22).
     “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) and it all declares His eternal glory and His eternal wisdom! Amen.

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