How do you feel when you look at the stars? I spent the month of November 1998 in the Mojave Desert with other Soldiers from Fort Campbell. We engaged in military training. I rehearsed with other team members how we. as religious support personnel in our brigade, would perform our roles during combat. While it was a training environment, the absence of lights made it quite dark on cloudy nights. If one wandered from his or her tent without a glowstick after dark, they ran the risk of getting lost or injured in darkness that swallowed perception of what lay around. On the other hand, when skies were clear, the brilliance of innumerable stars overwhelmed me. Then, and now, when I look at the stars, my awareness of their immense distance from the earth and their actual great size awakens awe within me. Our home planet cannot be seen with the naked eye from any being who might be looking from planets revolving around any other star than our sun any more than we can see any of those planets. The magnitude of the universe invites contemplation of how it came to be. Positing the role of an intelligent being like God, or even a “natural” process, implies powers that boggle the mind. Like the psalmist who penned Psalm 8, I want to pray, really to exclaim, or to sing:
“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens…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?” (Psalm 8:1,3-4).
While the psalmist goes on to marvel at the significance and responsibilities that God has given humanity, his psalm emphasizes his amazement that God even notices us humans in the vastness of the cosmos. I find it daunting that my life, anyone’s life, can actually have purpose given our minuscule individual role in the overall scheme of the universe. Yet when we consider our societies, we realize that individuals can influence others, that they, that we can make a difference.
When I look at the stars, I imagine what it might be like to travel to one of them. I consider what ethical challenges and what spiritual quandaries I might confront if I encountered intelligent life, or any kind of flora and fauna, on distant worlds. These speculations drive me back to the enormity of the responsibilities that the Bible says that God has placed on humanity as stewards of his creation. This awareness triggers humility. And somehow, even as I ponder possibly unanswerable questions, I sense the reality, the majesty, the presence, and the concern of God. My prayers move beyond petition, confession, and lament to adoration and gratitude. I echo the words of the Psalmist with my own thoughts:
“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:9)
• Quotes from the Bible are from New International Version, 2011.