LIFE LESSON #5: A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSANDS GALAXIES
Stand in awe of God
In 2010, my wife and I had the good fortune to travel to Washington DC on a business trip. Once the work part was over, we had planned a few extra days to visit some of the sights around the area, with our primary goal of spending time at the Smithsonian.
If you’ve never been to the Smithsonian, it is a series of massive buildings that display some of man’s greatest inventions and achievements. You can walk it alone, or join a tour guide who will tell you everything you need to know about the major displays. I’ve never been one who enjoyed following the crowds in life so when my wife suggested that she wanted to join a tour; I bowed out and took the walk alone.
As I walked through the Smithsonian, I was amazed by the display of creativity of man and where we had grown from over time, applying our minds and talents to overcoming the challenges that we faced. Whether above or below the water or land, or navigating the challenges faced in the sky and space, each new challenge or barrier that held humankind back had either been tackled and overcome, or we were on the verge of doing so. It was amazing and there was an inner sense of pride and self-worth that grew within me with each step and display I view. I knew I had nothing to do with such creativity except being fortunate enough to belong to the human race. In my solo and self-guided tour, I’m sure I missed a great deal of general information about the major displays, but in my lonely journey through the Smithsonian, I discovered what became the most impacting and memorable display. It was hidden on a wall in the shadow of the space shuttle. It was a simple 24 x 36-inch poster.
As I walked past it, what caught my eye was the 100 or more galaxies of various shapes, colors and renderings, each somewhat evenly spaced across the poster. When I say galaxies, I’m talking about the giant galaxies like our Milky Way that we belong to with its millions of planets and solar systems floating in its circular shape. As I stared at the hundred plus galaxies I saw that each galaxy was unique and I’m sure if they could speak would have a different story to tell about how they were formed. My initial thought was that they had all been cut and pasted from various pictures of space and gathered together into one stunning collection. It was breathtaking to see all these galaxies in one place. What an amazing and powerful God we have to have created all one hundred plus galaxies, each one the home of millions of stars. To say it was mind blowing was an understatement as I tried to comprehend the magnitude of that poster. As I stood there shaking my head, I noticed a small text box at the bottom right of the poster and knelt to read it. If memory serves me correctly, it said:
This image was captured by the Hubble Telescope. The telescope was aimed at a small section of space 1/10th the size of the moon as observed from the earth. The image was allowed to expose over a 3-month period in order to allow all the light coming from that part of space and from those galaxies to be captured on the film.
I blinked at the words and then let my mind try to gather in what I had just read. This poster was not a collection of all the galaxies in the known universe, but instead they were all the galaxies in just a very small fraction of the universe. If it were not for all the extra empty space available in my head for the thoughts to flow into, I’m confident the rest of the people at the Smithsonian would have just heard a loud “pop” and then would have seen a guy lying on the floor in front of the poster as they continued on their way. I stumbled back and sat in a chair directly across from the poster and continued to try to grasp the magnitude of what I was looking at. Thinking back on it now, perhaps that chair was placed there purposely just in case someone came along and took the time to view the poster and tried to grasp the magnitude of it as I had. Maybe they put it there because there were tired cleaning up the mess from people passing out in front of it. Whatever the reason for the chair, I was grateful for it, as I just sat there and stared at the poster for another 5 minutes before getting back up to take another look at the text box to make sure I read it correctly. “Yep.” I mumbled and sat back down and once again tried to wrap my mind around the words and the image.
"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."
My mind then drifted back to mankind and Carl Sagan’s most quoted “Billions and billions” statement on the number of stars in the universe flowed through my mind as I just sat there blinking. All the amazing wonders, inventions, and achievements of mankind were so insignificant compared to what God has done. I realized that our arrogance in our own grand achievements that were displayed across the Smithsonian buildings was but a minuscule reflection of what God has done. Yet the creator of all space and time is only acknowledged with a small poster hung under the wing of a vehicle that barely touched space. The words God spoke to Job when he doubted God's wisdom and power started also bouncing around my head.
"Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me."
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"
“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?"
Job 38:1-7, 31-33
With such arrogance and self promotion, how did God even put up with us? I thought about David in the Old Testament, a young man who spent a great deal of time as a shepherd with his sheep, staring at the stars in the sky at night. His words in Psalm 8:3-4, reflected his awe and amazement of God, yet at the same time he wrestled with his understanding of God’s love for us.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
While we hold up our creativity and works for God to see and somehow be impressed by, our creator quietly smiles and holds in his back pocket the amazing universe, or just as impressive and well beyond our ability to create, even the ant. Then I thought of my children growing up, continually bringing home from school their creative works and drawings they had just completed for my wife and I to see.
“Do you like it Daddy?” “I love it! It’s beautiful?” I would respond, often unsure of what it was that I held until they explained it proudly to us. No matter how it looked or turned out, we would pretend to be amazed by each drawing, coloring and precious and priceless 'one of a kind' ceramic bowls and cups. Items we still treasure and keep on display or store in boxes to this very day. You see it's not their level of creativity or how well they create that we love, it's our love for them and the idea that they tried to create it for us that moves our hearts.
Often our fear as parents is in knowing that as our children grow older they will forget us, or we will become less to them as the world and others become more. The life of a parent can often be thankless as we raise our children. However, I’m sure it pales in comparison to the heartbreak that God feels as he watches the “billions and billions” of what he professes to be His most precious and amazing creations turn their backs on him, even denying his existence, and instead chose to drift into the eternal dead space of eternity alone. He never forgets us, yet there are so few who still look up into the sky and see and acknowledge God and his power. Few who place His dreams and teachings as the most important and prominent items on display in their lives and to proudly share them with others. Instead, like the poster in the Smithsonian, our faith in God and His amazing power is reduced to a small poster on a small distant wall of our hearts, right below our own creations.
I hope and pray as you go through your day that you remember, or more importantly, never forget how amazing God is, how much he loves you, and what incredible plans he has for you. Plans that are beyond your wildest dreams but only if we to truly remember who the Creator is and who is the created.
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity."
To God be the glory.