I fell in love with astronomy and the mysteries of the night sky when my parents enrolled me in a science magnet elementary school. The school was equipped with a basic planetarium, and I remember as a kindergartner wondering, Is that all really up in the sky?
My heart’s curiosity was further sparked by Star Wars, Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, and especially by my high school astronomy teacher, James Rousseau, whose love of the stars—and the God who shaped them—helped me connect my fascination with space to the One who spoke it into being. So when NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope this past Christmas, I couldn’t help but be excited at what it would return in a matter of months.
I’m no astronomer. I’m not an expert on the night sky. To my shame, I don’t even own a telescope. But you don’t have to be an astronomer or own a telescope to look at the recent pictures provided by the James Webb Space Telescope and gasp in wonder at the sheer magnitude of all that has been created by the God we worship. Take a look at the SMACS 0723 image, which NASA says is “the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date.”
When I saw the first James Webb images a few days ago, two thoughts entered my head, almost simultaneously: Nothing matters. Everything matters.
When I look at the images and try to comprehend just how massive our universe is, it feels like my difficult day at work, my upcoming vacation, and my wonderful family simply do not matter. But then, when I consider that by God’s grace we exist and have the ability to taste and see God’s goodness—and witness his glory—here on our speck-of-dust-sized planet in the vastness of the universe, I can’t help but think everything matters.
Is God Really Beyond All This?
The enormity of the universe is virtually impossible to grasp. NASA explains that the SMACS 0723 image is “approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.” So find a grain of sand, hold it up to the night sky, and imagine that in it are thousands of galaxies we can see with the most powerful telescope we’ve ever constructed—and certainly countless more galaxies we cannot yet see.
As I gazed into the distant past of deepest space, I wondered, “Is God really beyond all of this?” God, unbound by time and space, isn’t just hanging out on a distant planet in a galaxy on the other side of the universe, waiting to bring his kingdom to earth. God is beyond the deepest depths of space and the distant past into which we look back through space-time. But when I first laid eyes on the SMACS 0723 image, I confess my wonder was mixed with doubt: Could he really be beyond all of this?
Yes. Our God, who spoke trillions of stars into existence, is somehow and in some way not only beyond the most distant galaxies but around them, and through them, in a hands-on way. As difficult as it is to comprehend the enormity of the universe, it’s even more difficult to understand that God is bigger than it and beyond it. Difficult to understand, yes. But maybe not difficult to believe.
Only God Could Be Behind All This!
The SMACS 0723 image, containing thousands of galaxies in the deepest reaches of space, was the first image many saw from the James Webb Space Telescope. When I saw it I wondered if God truly is beyond such an image. But when I saw the image of the Carina Nebula (see below), my answer came in the form of a realization: Only God could be behind all of this.
Not only is God beyond all of this, and around it, and present in it (Ps. 121; Isa. 40:28), but God is its Maker (Jer. 32:17).
Only God could craft such beauty! Only an infinitely mighty God could create such an unfathomably big, beautiful world.
Some Christians might be a bit nervous when an image is said to be looking back “13 billion years” in time to the universe’s distant past. Debates about creationism and evolution—as well as the age of the universe—will continue within the church. But hopefully we can all be awed and appreciative that the Carina Nebula exists and was created by God. What beauty! What splendor!
Food doesn’t have to be delicious. Flowers don’t have to smell good. And the Carina Nebula—with its light-years high Cosmic Cliffs—doesn’t have to be as beautiful and mysterious as it is. But it is. You can almost see the breath of God (Ps. 33:6) in the Carina Nebula. God crafted this star-birthing supermassive scene to be beautiful—and no humans have seen it until now.
God crafted this star-birthing supermassive scene to be beautiful—and no humans have seen it until now.
What other matchless wonders has God tucked away in corners of the universe we have yet to discover, and which maybe we never will? What other glories did he handcraft for his good pleasure, which our senses as yet have not perceived? Only he knows. And his explosive creativity is so boundless that we’ll never find its end—at least as long as we’re on the speck of space rock called Earth, on this side of eternity.
God Is Near
God knows your name and my name. And he knows the names of the stars being born in the Carina Nebula right now (Ps. 139:13–14; Ps. 147:4). The God who is far beyond the far reaches of whatever the James Webb Space Telescope reveals is also the God who is in you and in me, the God who became a tiny, fragile human who lived and died as we do so that through him we might join him in eternity.
God knows your name and my name. And he knows the names of the stars being born in the Carina Nebula right now.
Maybe you, as I do, look at these mind-boggling images and wonder, Is my God really this big? Know that God answers, “Only I am this big, and you haven’t seen anything yet.”
He’s the God, after all, who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20); the One by whom “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16).
Praise God for caring about you, and me, and the galaxies we’ll never see. All creation shouts the name of our glorious, creative God (Rom. 1:20).
Let’s join in the chorus (Ps. 95:6; Rev. 5:13).