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Gaze to the Heavens, Gain Hope on Earth

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Isaiah 40:26 [1]

A View Through the Eye of a Needle

The Ordered Splendor of Deep Space: If you have a hard time wrapping your mind around infinity, this image from the James Webb Space Telescope is about as close as you can get. In the tiniest patch of sky, the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length, thousands of distant galaxies come into focus. Not mere stars, but galaxies, each one containing billions of stars. A look to the heavens forces a stark question: “What are you and I in this unimaginable vastness? Meaningless specks of dust?” That’s the only logical conclusion of a God-less worldview. But oddly enough, no one lives that way. Could it be that we think and act as though our lives have intrinsic meaning because they do? All of us, even atheists, reveal God’s unique stamp upon humanity—his “image”—by their passionate involvement in a broken world. We care. We desire. We love. We worship.

Isaiah’s stunning prophesy above moves us to worship by presenting us with a fresh vision of the night sky. He speaks to a nation on the cusp of disaster—the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the deportation of its people to Babylon.

Pay close attention to the prophet’s God-centered logic. The Creator knows each star by name. Names to God are not useful labels—the way astronomers classify galaxies by letter and number—but his perfect, exhaustive knowledge and absolute control. It’s an argument from the greater to the lesser: “If the Lord’s understanding comprehends all the countless stars, such that by his mighty strength not one of them ever becomes lost, surely he knows you and cares for you.” God’s voice through Isaiah flips the existential despair of a God-less universe right on its head to give hope to the weakest when their lives look the bleakest.

A Hard Landing on Rough Terrain: You’ve gazed into the heavens and beheld the majesty of the Everlasting God. Now you drop back to earth. It’s a hard landing in a world shattered by chaos, hatred, warfare, across-the-board wickedness, and the global persecution of Christian believers.

Speaking of rough terrain…I just snapped this picture at our local polling station. It’s Election Day. What extraordinary political tensions in mid-term races across the country! Think about this for a moment. In the light of God’s transcendence (look again at those galaxies) how should we view political activity? Do we float above this unseemly fracas and not get our hands dirty? Or, on the other extreme, will we try to make the country Christian (or the opposite) by a 51% vote? [2] Most of us live between those poles. We know we’ll never build heaven on earth, but let’s never despair of political involvement, done wisely and with grace. “Politics is about the art of the possible, which requires making the best out of a fallen world filled with sinful people and imperfect systems.” “We need an approach to politics that is engaged but not idolatrous; transcendent but not relativizing….” [3]

Where can we find that settled peace, matched with robust cultural engagement? Isaiah tells us. The Sovereign LORD indeed came with power in the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. Heavenly beings filled the dark sky around Bethlehem and proclaimed, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. The Kingdom of this Messiah spans all time and all nations—even Babylon; wisemen from the east rejoiced, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” He who created the galaxies perfectly marshalled them to lead these seekers to the Savior. God himself broke into world history in Jesus Christ—the Son of God born as a real human like us, but without sin. He would live the perfect life we could not live, die in place of the guilty who trust him, and rise again from the dead.

This Good Shepherd gathers the weakest of his lambs, and cares for them, and leads them. Now by his Spirit, his people serve a desperate world in our time and place, yet with our eyes fixed on eternity. Will you place your heart’s trust in him? [4]

Gaze to the heavens, gain hope on earth.

“Adoration of the Shepherds” (center), Von Honthorst, 1622

[1] New International Version; other biblical texts (in italics) cited are Matthew 2:2 and Luke 2:14.

[2] Interestingly, the utopian dreams of this last group span the political spectrum. On the right, we create a vague civil religion by mashing together patriotism, carefully edited history, a handful of "traditional values," and “American exceptionalism.” On the left, some people attempt massive social transformation among citizens who are so unenlightened that we have to co-opt state power to get them to redefine gender (there used to be two) and love electric vehicles. So…now that I’ve offended both sides, I’d better stop.

[3] Quotes from Kevin DeYoung, “Does Christianity transcend all our political disagreements? Right and wrong ways to think about Christianity and politics,” World Magazine, October 20, 2022. This insightful article outlines four common approaches to politics with their strengths and pitfalls.

[4] To learn more about what this means, Resources, Downloads, “The Greatest News.”


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