THE BIBLE AND ASTRONOMY
By Pastor Glenn Pease
When Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father He took a throne that made Him sovereign, not just over the earth, but over the entire universe. Before He ascended He said, "All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me." Paul tells us that He was exalted above all principalities and powers. There is no power in the universe greater. He is the ruler of the universe. He is the King of Kings, and by His power all things were created, and by His power all things hold together. This means that everything that astronomy is about is the handiwork of Christ. He is the Author, Sustainer, and Lord of outer space and all space. Howard C. Robins asks-
And have the bright immensities
Received our risen Lord,
Where light years frame the Pleiades,
And point Orion's sword?
Do flaming suns his footsteps trace
Through corridors sublime?
The Lord of interstellar space
And conqueror of time?
The Bible answers, yes! That is why the Bible and astronomy agree on the value of setting our affections on things above. Even the physical things above like the Sun, moon, stars, and comets can teach us and lead us to spiritual depth. David says that two things happen to him when he studies the heavens. He becomes small and God becomes great. Astronomy can help fulfill the two important goals of magnifying the majesty of God, and making man humble.
Harris Kirk in Stars, Atoms, And God says, "It is not always safe to look at the midnight sky. Those distant points of light we call the stars have more than once burned the sense of nothingness into man and left him desolate amid the baffling mysteries of this mortal life." There can be no doubt that one of the reasons for the vastness of the universe is to compel men to forsake pride, and to fall in awe before their Maker. When God spoke out of the whirlwind to Job He asked him, "Can you bind the chains of Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?" He asked other questions about the heavens also in order to show Job how small and powerless he was. In the light of what we know of the vastness of creation our whole earth is like one grain of sand on a vast ocean beach.
If you were to view one of the pictures taken of our galactic system by the 200-inch telescope on Mt. Palomar, in order to see the earth the picture would have to be enlarged until it covered the whole continent of Asia, and then it would be visible only under the most powerful microscope. Our earth is ultra-microscopic, and man is infinitesimally small. God wants man to be conscious of this fact of reality for it keeps him humble. The smallness of the earth is stressed in the Bible. In Isa. 66:1 God says, "Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool." In Psa. 1:13 God is exalted high and has to look down even to see the heavens. "The Lord is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heaven and the earth?" In Isa. 40:15, 17, we read, "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales..." "All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are accounted by Him as less than nothing and emptiness." In other words, all the mighty weapons of man are really just small potato's to God. They are like a gnat on the Sun.
God displays power in the heavens that stagger the imagination. Our Sun radiates in one second more energy than man has used since the beginning of civilization. A solar flare that blocked out radio communication all over the world in 1960 was equal to a force of a billion hydrogen bombs. All of this power magnified billions of times over throughout the universe tells us of the glory of God. Yet even this does not scratch the surface of the omnipotence of God. In verse 3 David calls it all the work of God's fingers. Most of you men have demonstrated your strength by challenging a child to pull with both hands as you pull with just a finger. David says that all the amazing power of the universe is just the display of the strength of God's fingers.
Jesus used the same illustration when He referred to His miracles in Luke 11:20 where He said, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast our demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." In the might of the universe and the miracles of Christ we have only seen the power of God's fingers. This biblical concept of the almighty and infinite power of God is what keeps a Bible believer from idolatry. The awe and wonder that the universe compels men to feel has often lead them to worship the creation because they do not have an adequate concept of the Creator. If you start right, however with a biblical concept of God, the study of astronomy will lead you to a greater worship of Him.
Let us take note of the fact that God the Father and the Son are given astronomical names in Scripture. Both are identified with the Sun. In Psa. 84:11 we read, "The Lord God is a Sun..." In Mal. 4:2 the Messiah is referred to as, "The Sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings." Hymn writers have picked up this theme and one of them is titled, "Sun of my soul, thou Savior dear." Another goes like this:
Great Sun of righteousness arise;
Bless the dark world with heavenly light.
Thy Gospel makes the simple wise;
Thy laws are pure, thy judgments right.
The Sun is the king of the sky and is an appropriate symbol of the King of Kings and ruler of all creation. Many are the parallels of the work of the Sun and the work of Christ. The Sun is the source of light, life, and health. Jesus is all of this as well for the spirit of man. Jesus is not just the source of light and life for the spirit of man, but is also the source of physical light and life. The energy of the literal Sun is the energy of Christ. This means that every lost person on the earth is being blessed by the cosmic Christ whom we worship. In the physical realm the energy of Christ is distributed to all people. He makes the Sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike. In the spiritual realm the energy of Christ flows into those lives which submit to His Lordship. As Christians we live under the grace and power of Christ that comes both indirectly through nature, and directly through His Word and Spirit. In eternity, where only those who submit to His Lordship will be present, there will be no need of the Sun, for Christ will be our source of light and life directly.
Meanwhile, as we live under the indirect blessing of Christ through His natural creation, we ought to be aware that it is our Lord who give us light and life through the literal Sun.
In darkest shades if He appear,
My dawning is begun;
He is my soul's Bright Morning Star,
And he my Rising Sun.
Jesus said, "He that follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life." If we walk in the light of Christ our Sun never sets. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of perpetual day, for God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. The Christian can say that where they live there is never a sunset, for they live in Christ who is the perpetual Sun.
Jesus is also connected with the stars in Scripture. A star led the wise men to Him as a child, but before that He was called the star out of Jacob in Num. 24:17, and after that He is called the Morning Star in Rev. 22:16. Jesus said, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." The morning star is also the evening star, and is a fitting symbol for Christ who is the first and the last. Each order of knighthood had a star connected with it, and when a general returned from battle victorious he would receive a gold and jeweled star. So it will be for those believers who fight the fight of faith to the end. Jesus says in Rev. 2:28 of such a victor, "I will give him the morning star."
Christians should have astronomical aspirations, for both the Old Testament and New Testament refer to such a hope. In Dan. 12:3 we read, "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness has the stars forever and ever." Wisdom and turning people to righteousness are the same thing. We have sung the song, "Will there be any stars in my crown?" It is a reference to the reward for winning another to Christ. The stars can be reminders to us of our high goal as believers, and of our great reward. We can also let others know how we follow a star that we know in Christ.
He is a Star. He breaks the night,
Piercing the shades with dawning light
I know His glories from afar;
I know the bright and morning star.
As Christians we have a personal interest in the study of the stars, for they are not only symbolic of our Savior and our eternal reward, but they are literally His work of art. The heavens declare the glory of God and they praise Him. Psa. 148:3 says, "Praise Him Sun and moon, praise Him all you shining stars. Praise Him you highest heavens." Men observing the perpetual praise that God receives from His creation have expressed a longing to be a part of it. Henry Vaughn wrote,
I would I were some bird or star,
Fluttering in woods, or lifted far
Above this inn and vale of sin.
There either star or bird shall be,
Shining or singing still to thee.
This, of course, is a subtle form of escapism. In spite of the hindrance of sin we too are to let our light shine before men in such a way that God is glorified. We are to sing songs in the night that compel men to consider the joy that is in Christ. Like all of God's creation we are to declare the glory of God by lives of love, order, and harmony so that men long to know our maker and redeemer.
The biblical perspective assumes that people are aware of the basic facts of astronomy that can be observed by the naked eye. When God spoke to Job in Job 38:31-32 He asked, "Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?" In those questions God took for granted that Job knew about the two most conspicuous constellations, as well as the whole of the 12 constellations of the Zodiac. And, of course, he would know of what we call the big dipper. God expected Job to be familiar with these things, and he was. In Job 9:9 Job says of the wonders of God's creation, "Who made the bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the South."
The prophet Amos in 5:8 also refers to what was common knowledge in his day when he refers to God as, "He who made the Pleiades and Orion." These two constellations have played great roles in the history of astronomy, literature, and poetry. Orion is the mighty hunter, and is connected with the Nimrod in the Old Testament. The Greeks pictured the stars in the Pleiades as doves flying away from the great hunter Orion. Tennyson the poet wrote,
Many a night from yonder ivied casement,
Ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the west,
Many a night I saw the Pleiades, rising thro' the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.
Certainly every Christian should have enough interest in astronomy to get acquainted with those well-known objects of beauty in the sky so that they can enter into the experience of joy and awe that results from such knowledge. It also opens the door to witness to the majesty of the Creator. There are some astronomical facts in Scripture that have caused problems for the believer. The Sun standing still in Joshua 10 is the greatest. The question is not whether God could do it or not, for nothing demanding power is impossible to God. The question is, would God do it? Would He perform such a colossal miracle for the sake of helping Joshua win a battle?
Bible scholars have looked for ways to interpret that event in such a way that is taken as a literal account of what happened in the experience of Joshua, and yet does not compel us to believe that God stopped the whole solar system. There are several ways to do this. The one that I prefer is to see it as a miracle of the supernatural refraction of the Sun's rays. The Sun would continue to shine in the heavens and provide the necessary light, and it would be following its daily pattern without interruption. This makes more sense, and is no less a marvelous miracle. Robert Wilson writing in Moody Monthly said, "I confess to a feeling of relief, as far as I myself is concerned, that I shall no longer feel myself forced by a strict exegesis to believe that the Scriptures teach that there actually occurred a miracle that involves so tremendous a reversal of all the laws of gravitation."
There is no conflicts between the Bible and astronomy. The Bible encourages the study of the heavens, and astronomy encourages the belief in an almighty designer of the universe. Astronomy also supports the doctrine of creation. The second law of thermodynamics, which involves the running down of the universe, or the loss of energy, indicates that if the universe was eternal it would already have run down. The universe had to have begun at some limited point in the past.
Einstein's theory that space is finite but unbounded also fits the biblical perspective. Just as the earth is finite but unbounded so that you can travel on the earth and never stop, but come back to where you started, so is it if you travel into space at the speed of light. Somewhere between 200 and 500 billion years later you will be back where you started. That is a big circuit, but it is not infinite. It is finite, and that means that astronomy supports the statement of David that all the works of God that man can see are the mere works of His finger. They are His finite works that shall pass away. It is good to study them, but greater yet, and infinitely more important, is the study of the works of God's heart. His fingers gave us the Sun, moon and stars, but His heart gave us the Son of Righteousness, and the star of Jacob, which is spiritual astronomy with infinite values. The most important question is not what do you know of the heavens, but what do you know of Him who made the heavens, and who died for us that we might be in heaven forever? The big question is, is the Lord of heaven the Lord of your life? It is no problem being so small if you know the Lord of all.
Astronomy is useful to us as a means of measuring or illustrating God's nature, for it always deals with that which is most near to the infinite. The Psalmist in Psa. 103:11 writes, "As the heaven is high above the earth so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him." Hear is a comparison of the physical creation and the spiritual reality of God's mercy. Just how merciful is God? The Bible looks to the vocabulary of astronomy to express it. How high is the heaven above the earth? There are different levels of heaven, of course, and you could call the clouds of heaven one level, but the heaven is very close to what is an infinite distance away from the earth. Just our galaxy is 80 thousand light years in diameter, but it is a drop in the bucket of the universe.
Astronomy helps us conceive of the difference between the finite and the infinite. God uses His creation for a visual illustration. In Isa. 55:9 He says, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." A more constant reflection on the facts of astronomy will aid us in keeping away from the petty, and help us aim high. His majesty and loftiness need never to cause us to fear that He has no concern for our little lives, for Psa. 138:6 reminds us, "Though the Lord be high, He has respect unto the lowly." Astronomy keeps us humble, but also helps us maintain a spirit of adoration for the Creator of all the wonders it discovers.