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The Vast Panorama

The Vast Panorama

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 display 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.

Psalm 19:1-3, TNIV

We live in a galaxy that is about 100,000 light-years across and is slowly rotating; the stars in its spiral arms orbit around its center about once every several hundred million years.

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

It is only occasionally that I tip my head upward toward the stars. I am consumed by schedules and appointments and responsibilities. My eyes rarely stray from some spot on the horizon, I fix them firmly on earth; never letting my gaze lift to the heavens. Often, I reduce my universe to the streets that I drive down, the rooms I cloister myself in.

My life has not always been this way. There were autumn evenings, crisp in their coolness, when I lay with my back to the dirt, staring out at the vast panorama that continuously fills the sky. During those times, I knew instinctively what scientists spend long hours to understand—that we "live in a galaxy that is about 100,000 light-years across." Faced with those kinds of dimensions, I was always forced to come clean about my place in the universe; knowing that I was a very, very small fleck against a much, much larger canvas.

I have read that beyond our own solar system, beyond our own galaxy, there are some 100 million galaxies—each containing more than 100,000 million stars. These numbers are incomprehensible. We can pass them around and write them down on flash cards, memorize them to appear smarter, but we can’t ever really grasp that kind of size. The size of that kind of universe goes beyond our ability to know. It follows that God must be similarly sized. "What is man that you take thought of him," the ancient songwriter sang. When peering out at the stars, it seems like a good question.

As for me, I am constantly tempted to make my universe ever smaller. I often set myself up as my own little sun, carefully choosing the planets that make it into my orbit—sorting out those celestial bodies that might make my light dimmer. Gradually, I often come to believe that all of life revolves around me. During these times, even the tiniest of difficulties can become giant-sized and threatening. In my myopia, I see God through the wrong end of my telescope; He seems so small and far away.

But God is not a small God. He is beyond measurement. He is beyond depth or breadth or length. He instigates every movement in the universe and beyond. As Paul, the first-century missionary, noted during a stay in Athens, Greece: "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He himself gives all humanity life and breath and everything else. In him we live and move and have our being."

I would do well to step out into the night and listen to the stars as they "pour forth speech;" to take in the wide-screen picture of God—beyond the tiny boundaries that I have created for him. When I get a glimpse of his glory, of the inestimable depth of his creation, it shifts my perspective to His. My boundary lines are broken, and I am suddenly free to experience life beyond the borders of my atomic-sized experiences. Then my life can mingle with the very mystery of God—a God who has designed and built many mansions; mansions that stretch across the vastness of time and space.

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