Last night me and a very dear friend spent most of the night on Mt. Magazine in Paris, AR, the highest point in Arkansas. We laid on the ground for hours in surprisingly cold weather, looking at the countless stars, the visible milky way, the complex constellations, the artificial satellites and the dozens of shooting stars. Time went on forever it felt like while laying there talking and watching. It affected me in ways that I can’t really wrap my head around yet.
NOTE: Click the images to see larger, non-cropped versions.
You see something I realized not too long ago is that I’m truly fascinated with space, possibly even obsessed. I started realizing I was always drawn to science fiction that took place in space, it wasn’t the hi-tech gadgets that drew me in though. It was the exploration, colonization, and study of this massive universe that hooked me. The thought that the next collective step of humanity is into the depths of this uncharted wilderness. I love studying the immensity of objects in space, and yet despite their size they are ultimately dominated by space, empty space. 99.999999999999999….% of matter is empty space. You are mostly empty space. Your computer is mostly empty space. There are billions of miles of space between planets and solar systems and then these objects bigger than multiple Earths combined are still almost entirely just space. Fascinating.
This is what space does to me. It makes me think about really big things like Red Giants that are hundreds of times bigger than our own seemingly huge sun.
Or ideas like when I look up and see the milky way at night, I’m seeing across the galaxy like looking across the middle of a packed room and realizing my eyes and mind can’t comprehend the amount of stars that are in only a 1×1 inch area of it and most likely somewhere out there is some other intelligent beings looking up across at us thinking something similar.
Space also makes me think of really small things like clouds of tiny particles of space dust that the sun shines through making parts of the night sky glow as if God had splashed gold dust into piles of twinkling diamonds. It strains at my mind’s very understanding of reality.
We look up at sky scrapers that take up less than .01% (made up this number but it’s pretty clear they don’t take up much at all) of Earth’s surface and we think those are massive! Yet they are nothing to the size of Earth. We travel all the way around the world and think how it feels as if the world goes on nearly forever. But then you look up and see that tiny burning ball in the sky and you realize it’s the size of a marble from 92.96 MILLION miles away… it’s 870,000 miles across and can hold 1 million earths in it, you can’t fathom that concretely.
Then you read how the pinpoint stars you see up in the sky are often bigger than our own star. In fact there is a star that’s radius is 1650 times bigger than our Sun. If you replaced our’s with it, it would expand out past Jupiter.
Another one is 8,700,000 millions times brighter than our sun. Insane right?
How about this then… This galaxy, the Milky Way is around 100,000 light years in diameter. That means taking roughly 6 trillion miles and multiplying it by 100,000… no big deal.Except there is another galaxy up in the sky that you can see called Andromeda and it is one of our closest universal neighbors. It is over 200,000 light years in diameter. At this point, you and I both have absolutely lost the concept of how big things are. We have no way of relating with these numbers, but I’m not done yet.
There is another galaxy Hercules A, that is over 1.5 million light years across. 6 trillion miles x 1.5 million will give you the mileage, absolutely huge. The Milky Way has probably around 200-400 billion stars… not planets, STARS. Our puny galaxy is packed! Sort of.
The Milky Way is producing around 10 stars per year, there is a galaxy that is making them at a speed around 4,000 per year and it’s just warming up. It’s likely to become one of the largest galaxies someday. Right now though, there are galaxies with similar structure to ours out there with 1 trillion stars and others not like ours with 100 trillion stars… Backtrack to Andromeda though, being one of our CLOSEST neighbors is still 2,538,000 light years away (you know how to figure the mileage by now). Then there is a galaxy that’s name is just a string of numbers and letters, that is possibly the most distant observed object in the universe 13.3 BILLION miles away think about that distance.
It’s maddening to think about… I’m not done though, but close. The OBSERVABLE universe is about 46 billion light years across. That’s what we can see. Also, the universe has expanded ever since the Big Bang. However, recently we learned it’s not simply expanding at a constant speed, it’s accelerating. Whoa. Most of these last few numbers I’ve mentioned are scientific estimates, it’s impossible to be exact, but most of them are confidently within the ball park. However at this point they get a bit more speculative, but they still aren’t vague guesses. These huge galaxies we’ve talked about? There are probably around 100 TRILLION of them in our universe. And that leaves us with around 300 sextillion stars (3.23 x 10^23, or write 323 and add 23 zeros after it.) Finally though, we are starting to gain bits of evidence that lead us to believe that there is a very real possibility of multiple universes. Maybe a finite number, possibly an infinite number all making up the multiverse. To get into the hypothesizes for what they might be like is an entirely different talk though. So now think back about how big you thought that Empire State building was and then realize how far we’ve come to multiple universes in size. Not sure what to think right?
I’ll give you this take away though, you are small, incredibly so. Yet, we know us humans are composed of atoms, and atoms have particles like protons and electrons which get broken down more and more until you get to things like quarks which to tidy up briefly is like this:
Atom = 1,000,000 times smaller than a human hair
Proton = 100,000 times smaller than an atom (or 1,000,000 x 100,000 times smaller than a hair)
Quarks are far smaller than these to the point of being geometrically a point, like the dots you put on graphes. Taking up no space and having no size but still existing as a place. I have no idea how to even make sense of that to be honest. Yet now it’s become likely that quarks are made of even smaller things we haven’t figured out how to look at yet. So yeah, you are small, but not THAT small. Which means really you are just average if even that. You aren’t even a footnote, just a random number on a scale.
So how about I finish by getting to my point?
Looking at space stretches me. It stretches my understanding of everything. It challenges every thought I have like some eccentric professor saying, “Think bigger Luke! Yet also, still you must think infinitely smaller too!” It forces me to look at myself, my life and everything else and realize how insignificant it all is in comparison to the majesty of all this creation before. Luke Liddell is not special. I am not important. I am made up of the dead atomic remains of once gloriously powerful stars. I’m smaller than small and bigger than big. Yet the Bible says creation is broken and the Grand Canyons and starry skies which appear so beautiful are but a shadow of what they were and what they will be.
They are awaiting redemption along with us. And yet still even beyond that beauty and majesty is an infinitely more majestic God. God is this being that is bigger than ALL of these unfathomable reaches and still smaller than the most microscopic of crevices. Infinite in both directions. Alpha and Omega. He who was and is and is to come. I start sputtering words trying to think of the size of Him. That’s a good thing though. In his size, he made all these things, universes and quarks each. He built them and placed them and knows them absolutely perfectly and they run and work as they do every single moment of existence each individually because he commands them to. Yet surrounded by all the beauty and power that is producing awe and wonder in this multiverse, he chose us. Humans. He chose to place us at the pinnacle of ALL creation. Governors or co-heirs with him of all it. He gave us all of it. And you, a human being, a person, despite innumerable beautiful things he made and the countless things He is always doing, chose to know you intimately. Not just a matter of knowing absolutely everything about you, but knowing you personally.
Here’s an example; do you have a relationship with a piece of wood you pick up on the ground? Yes! You and it have crossed paths and though insignificantly so, you and it are tied together forever. Maybe you carve it into something which makes that relationship with it a little less insignificant. Yet still, your relationship to a piece of wood is nothing in comparison to your relationship with your best friend, your kid or your significant other. Out of every animal and organism, out of every object from whole universes, to excessively bright star, to the thing that make up quarks… he chose you *insert your name here* to love and cherish and dwell with. God doesn’t dwell with the supernovas and black-holes like he dwells with you. You are far more important than them. And it has nothing to do with your own intrinsic value. He bestowed value and importance to you, you did not earn it. Instead he made you in his image. You, a finite being carry in your soul a piece of that infinity, his “otherness”. Nothing else has that. NOTHING. It’s something more powerful than all the burning suns combined and that is why sin is so ridiculously awful and his grace so unbelievably incredible. Despite the mess we’ve made of things, he died for us and is restoring everything, us and all the beautiful things in existence. He is making all things new. He became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That is our God. That is Jesus. God himself does not dwell in stars or galaxies, no instead he chose to live in us. We are his temple… what does it mean? Well… it means he’s good and truly awesome. Beyond that I don’t know. I know one day I will see him face to face though and I will finally comprehend all these intangible things talked about here and I will be in awe, and I will be so overwhelmed that all I will know to do is worship him for who he is. Where we go from there I don’t know either, what adventures he has planned for us then, I can’t speculate but thinking about it last night certainly made me smile.
So next time you get a chance one evening, read Job 38 through the rest of the book, or Psalm 19 then go outside and see the blackness of space and all the stars. Have your mind stretched a bit by simply stopping and taking it in and just as God himself said, “Be still and know.”
“Is not God in the height of heaven? and behold the height of the stars, how high they are!” – Job 22:12
“The stars are the jewels of the night, and perchance surpass anything which day has to show. A companion with whom I was sailing one very windy but bright moonlight night, when the stars were few and faint, thought that a man could get along with them,—though he was considerably reduced in his circumstances,—that they were a kind of bread and cheese that never failed.” — Henry David Thoreau, ‘Night and Moonlight,‘ published in Excursions, 1913.
These are the lyrics to a song called Beautiful Eulogy by Beautiful Eulogy off the the album Satellite Kite.
Take a minute with them. They are powerful.
There used to be a time when we were fine, living life with no particular religious bend.
Pretending to be our own gods inventing our own systems of belief so as to not depend on anything other than our own self-governing consent.
Defending an impending doom with no perceived need to concede or repent.
Presuming our innocence in a sense dissent.
The sting of death was only the inevitable end of everything we could never rightly understand or comprehend.
We used to fear the unknown so God made Himself known and atoned mending the relationship between God and man.
Giving His life as a ransom for many when He died and ascended and in that one event the certainty of eternal death was circumvented, making a way for the day when history stops and time suspends, spending eternity in fellowship that never ends we see the greatest expression of God’s love extended in that moment when those who were once enemies instead became God’s friends.
And when it’s my time to go, go ahead and take me home I know I’ll be with you, I know I’ll be with You.
And when it is my time to go, go ahead and take me home knowing that I’d rather go, I wanna be with You.
How sweet the Gospel sounds to ears like mine, well acquainted with pain and strained relationships.
Friendships that suffer from long-distances or even worse they get severed from something more severe.
And He still hasn’t wiped away all my tears yet, my cheeks get wet every now and then, even when I give my best, I know I fall short, I get scared when the ball’s in my court.
Focused on my performance, wretched and poor, it makes the message more real when I preach it, I’m not there yet so I’m reachin, reaching for a goal to stand before my King and be speechless. Then, never again will I question if His grace is sufficient to cover my sin, because death is gone and all the effects of the evil and wrong will be conquered when His kingdom comes.
So this is my hope and my prayer the air that I’ll breathe in eternity with lungs that never fail me.
If it pleases my Lord, and only by Your grace, use my life till it’s poured out for Your sake.
Until then I’ll remain where You have me, with joy when I feel unhappy and a peace that surpasses all my understanding, my life is in the hands of Your love everlasting.
And when it’s my time to go, go ahead and take me home I know I’ll be with You, I know I’ll be with You.
And when it is my time to go, go ahead and take me home knowing that I’d rather go, I wanna be with You.
…How true the lyrics are to the cry of my heart. His grace… Such a gift. Such a savior.
The album is available legally for free here: http://noisetrade.com/beautifuleulogy/satellite-kite
The song can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmNlXE0dCfg
Lately I’ve been listening to a spoken word poet and rapper who goes by Propaganda, specifically his album Excellent (Which is available legally for free via the link, I highly recommend it) He has a song called “Forgive Me For Asking” in which he calls out American Christianity for hypocritical, agenda-oriented, shallow faith. He then calls out Muslims on their faith, followed by the scientific and agnostic\atheist community. Finally he finishes on a personal level by bringing to light our tendency to a hypocritical works based faith instead of by grace through faith. It’s a deeply thought provoking song. There is one lyric though that has stuck with me for the last few months, its after he has pointed out flaws with Christians, Muslims, and Agnostics, as well as himself:
“Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you’re right.
Maybe we’ll find out the day after the world ends.
Yeah, I guess we’re all a little inconsistent,
So maybe we can just show each other some grace?”
That gets me. I know I’m inconsistent. One day, my sin is so clear to me that all I can do is beg the Lord for grace and forgiveness in that moment. The next day, I’ll some how have convinced myself that I got it all figured out. God gave me a hand up, but I did the hard work. All these sinners need to get their lives together and stop disappointing the Lord. I’m on my own level. Anyone else ever like this? Anyone else find it easy to slip into self-righteousness? I do.
The fact is I’m human. I carry the human condition. This means I am innately inconsistent. Some days, I say and do the all the right things. Others, my life looks like a train wreck. This is why we fail to be excellent. Excellence has consistency. We rely on the source of Excellence, the Christ. And that’s a beautiful, relieving moment.
See I feel I’m a generally good person, not by my nature, but only because the Spirit within me is constantly course-correcting my devious bent for wrong. I didn’t earn that Spirit, it was a gift and isn’t something I can brag about. Left to my own devices, I’ll always act on my own selfish ambitions and desires and make no amends for their consequences. With the spirit, while, still not truly consistent, I’m working towards it. Not to be saved, see that’s already been given. I’m working towards this because I’m free to work towards it, to refine myself and better myself without having to “win” anything and I can do it free of arrogance, because it wouldn’t have even been possible without the Cross giving the ability.
This is a great thing. Yet this isn’t my point. I am still so quick to point out other groups failures and issues. Yet I have just as many failures and issues! Don’t lose me here, I’m not making a statement over whose right and wrong. I’m simply saying, instead of all of the bickering (I mean look at the status quo, has it really gotten us anywhere?) why don’t we show each other some grace. Instead of labeling the president a heathen, Muslims as terrorists, Professors and scientists as liars and Christians as bigots, can we just own up to our own inconsistency and share the same grace we bestow ourselves, to others? There is a really famous thought about all this: “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
It doesn’t mean you have to agree with someone else, it just means you show respect, and goodwill towards them. It means you stop waiting for them to misstep so you can pounce on that moment to prove your point. It means trying to get along.
Specifically to Christians, I just want to say, you are called to serve Christ by serving others. Rich, poor, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Anarchist, Communist, Capitalist, Pro-choicer, Pro-lifer, Pro-Guns, Anti-Guns, White, Black, KKK, Westboro. All of them. They do not serve you. You serve them, just as Christ served us (who are a wrong, ignorant and hostile people) It doesn’t matter how wrong or right they may be. The foundation of every word and action is love. Our actions are never reactions, because in all things we love and serve others. This makes life far less complicated for us too, though not necessarily easier. Whatever good or bad some person or group does to you, you already know your response. Love and service. Working that out, isn’t easy, wasn’t for Christ either, but we are called to do it. So maybe instead of spending so much time explaining why the other side is wrong, we can work on this whole love-service fundamental. Alright?
“It is this lack of love among Christians which today makes the church an insipid, lukewarm institution. People come to find affection and are turned off by our tepidity.”
“If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.”
“Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”
A large part of who I am is wrapped up in the “Doctor Mentality”. Growing up my mom watched ER every day. It drove me nuts, but anytime I spent more than 3-4 minutes watching it, I found myself glued for the rest of the episode. Years later I began recording the two episodes that were on TNT everyday. I’ve seen nearly the entire series. It actually was the cause for my original passion for Africa, over 3 years ago when I wanted to be a doctor. I happened to have seen the first episode again the other day. A green resident is overwhelmed by a serious trauma and goes to get air. The veteran Doctor Greene steps out with him to give him some advice. His advice is this:
“There are two kinds of doctors. Those who get rid of their feelings, and those who keep them. If you are going to keep your feelings, you are going to get sick from time to time, that’s just how it works. People come in here and they are sick, dying and bleeding and they need our help. Helping them is more important than how we are feeling. It doesn’t make it any easier though.”
I found that incredibly insightful. Let me share what I got from it.
1. As Christians we are spiritual doctors to a dying world. The bible tells us that our tongues hold the power to speak either life or death into someone.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. ” Proverbs 18:21
This is something we should never take lightly. If we aren’t speaking life into someone, we might as well be killing them. We need be both intentional and responsible with what we say and do. Just like a doctor in the midst of the sick, we are far too few to waste time. We must act and we must do all we can with what we have.
2. We will get sick sometimes. Christians cannot throw out their feelings, we will quickly become legalistic if we do. We are forced to keep our feelings. Jesus promised joy, but he never said it would be easy. It is lonely, frustrating, heartbreaking work trying to chase after Christ in a cruel and perverted world. Thankfully we have Him to rest upon.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
Don’t try to take on the burden of the world on your own. It’s too much for any human to bear. Find rest in the Lord.
3. We need to help others despite our feelings. Doctors sometimes have to help people who don’t want help. Sometimes they have to help people they don’t want to help. They must do it though, because it’s their job, it’s who they are. We must do the same. We will see people who don’t see their sin, they refuse help. Often times they’ll be so rude or hateful that we don’t want to help. We are different though. We are the image of Christ in all situations and we must not fail to do all we can. Just as a doctor would face consequences for failing to act when capable, so too will we.
“When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.'” Ezekiel 3:18
There is no time to play games with our life. We have all the tools, knowledge and ability needed to begin helping those in need. There are ER doctors, pediatric doctors, doctors in cities, doctors in villages. It’s not about where they are, it’s that they are doing their job, and if someone is in great distress, doctors don’t sit on the sidelines. As a young poet Ezekiel (not the biblical one) said, “Speak life or death will volunteer itself.”
“A physician is obligated to consider more than a diseased organ, more even than the whole man – he must view the man in his world.”
Love poured out
His glory like fires burned throughout all
Conquered hearts yielding in reclamation
God with us
It’s called a Tetractys poem. One syllable then two, three, four, ten, ten, four, three, two and one. Only after I made this, did I go back to find the history on Tetractys poems, turns out it has some connection with the Tetragrammaton, or YHWH the name of God… more modernly translated as the LORD… Very cool.
“He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life.”