Look Up and Listen (Psalm 19:1-6)
Look up and listen, for "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). What a way to begin the psalm that C. S. Lewis called "the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world" (Reflections on the Psalms, 63).
The grand sweep of Psalm 19 is nothing short of stunning. It begins with the skies above (vv. 1-6), then moves to the Scriptures below (vv. 7-11), and finally to the prayerful meditation of our own souls (vv. 12-14).
The revelation of God's glory has been written in two volumes. There is, first, the book of Natural Creation which unveils the splendor of God in space and stars and the skies above. Second, there is the volume of Holy Scripture. As glorious as the highest heavens may be, and as breathtaking as the immensity of space assuredly is, all pales in comparison with the glory of God revealed in his Word. "From nature we know only the hands and feet of God," said Calvin, "but from Scripture we may know his very heart" (more on this in the next meditation).
So, I'll say it again: look up and listen, for the sky and all it contains is one continuous chorus singing God's glory (Ps. 19:1-2). It "pours forth" (v. 2) praise, not in mere hints or whispers but in deafening shouts of supremacy and splendor. The word "pours forth" means to bubble up and over like an irrepressible mountain spring. "One day ‘bubbles forth' speech to the next day, and one night speaks to the next night. As a boiling pot bubbles over, so one day cannot contain its news to itself. In never-ending succession the message is relayed, as a baton is passed from one runner to the next. The message is the revelation of the glory of God" (Ron Allen, 132-33).
This is no momentary melody, but an on-going, incessant, ceaseless disclosure of God's power and splendor. Every twinkle of every star, every bolt of lightning and burst of thunder echo his majesty!
To all who will look and listen, during the day God is proclaimed in cloud and sky and rain and rainbows. When day is done, the night takes over with moon and meteors and galaxies galore. Together, day and night consistently proclaim one message: "God is elegant! God is exquisite!! God is enthralling!!!"
There is no such thing as empty space. What appears as an endless vacuum, sheer nothingness, is in fact a glorious canvas or backdrop for the celestial portrait that proclaims his power.
Jonathan Edwards wrote often in his Personal Narrative of what can only be called the sacramental power of God's handiwork, for in the creation he saw and encountered and adored the Creator. He recounts one instance of walking alone in his father's pasture for contemplation:
"And as I was walking there, and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God that I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together; it was a sweet, and gentle, and holy majesty, and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness.
After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were a calm sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God's excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for continuance; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things; in the mean time, singing forth, with a low voice my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer.
And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning; formerly, nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunderstorm rising; but now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, so to speak, at the first appearance of a thunder storm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God's thunder, which oftentimes was exceedingly entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. While thus engaged, it always seemed natural to me to sing, or chant for my meditations; or, to speak my thoughts in soliloquies with a singing voice" (Yale 16:793-94).
Edwards never viewed the natural creation as an end in itself. He would have considered it idolatry to derive delight from the complexity and design and grandeur of the physical realm were it not that such phenomena reflect, echo and embody the greatness and glory of their Creator.
Thus, whereas the psalmist is happy to personify nature, he doesn't deify it. Nature is not God. It is God's handiwork that sings his praise. Creation doesn't exist to proclaim creation's praise but that of its Creator.
The universe is wondrous indeed, but only because it is the "work of his hands" (NIV). The Creator cannot be reduced to or contained within what he has made. God never created the world with the intent that you stop with it, but that you trace along its lines to see the face of the Sovereign Lord who shaped it. As Piper has pointed out, "The glory of creation and the glory of God are as different as the love poem and the love, the painting and the landscape, the ring and the marriage. It would be a great folly and a great tragedy if a man loved his wedding band more than he loved his bride" (Piper, The Pleasures of God, , 86-87).
So, how do the heavens declare God's glory? In what ways may it be seen? Consider our own disc-shaped galaxy, the Milky Way, rather small when compared to what we know of other galaxies in the universe. Our Sun is only one of some 200,000,000,000 (that's right, 200 billion!) stars that comprise it. It is approximately 100,000 light years across. How big is that, you ask? Well, light can travel at 186,000 miles per second (that's per second!), or 670,000,000 miles per hour! So, it isn't hard to calculate that in a year's time light can travel just short of 6,000,000,000,000 miles (that's 6 trillion miles!).
So, if the Milky Way is 100,000 light years in diameter, that works itself out to 600,000,000,000,000,000 miles! In case you lost count of the zeros, that's 600 quadrillion miles!
As massive as that sounds, and as small as it makes us feel (knowing that we are tiny creatures on an indescribably tiny planet in an indescribably tiny solar system within the Milky Way), there are more than 100,000,000,000 separate galaxies in just the observable or known universe. Many of these galaxies contain over a trillion stars each!
Speaking of stars, as noted, our Sun is a comparatively tiny one when we take into consideration the rest of her galactic cousins. Let's recall that the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun (and be glad it is, for the Sun is 9,932 degrees F at its surface and 27 million degrees F at its core). If you were to replace our Sun with a typical Super Giant star, the latter would fill up the solar system beyond Jupiter's orbit! Remember that Jupiter is 483 million miles from the Sun! Some star! "God is elegant! God is exquisite!! God is enthralling!!!"
In his book, When I Don't Desire God, John Piper assumes that the psalmist's joy in creation "is not idolatrous - that is, I assume it does not terminate on the works themselves, but in and through them, rests on the glory of God himself. The works declare the glory of God. They point. But the final ground of our joy is God himself" (184). Edwards would no doubt joyfully concur. Again, Piper writes:
"That is, we see the glory of God, not just the glory of the heavens. We don't just stand outside and analyze the natural world as a beam, but let the beam fall on the eyes of our heart, so that we see the source of the beauty - the original Beauty, God himself. . . . All of God's creation becomes a beam to be ‘looked along' or a sound to be ‘heard along' or a fragrance to be ‘smelled along' or a flavor to be ‘tasted along' or a touch to be ‘felt along.' All our senses become partners with the eyes of the heart in perceiving the glory of God through the physical world" (184-85).
As good as that is and as great as the heavens may be, the revelation of God in Scripture is even better.
Gazing upward, in awe,