The final frontier of our faith.
How the cosmos and the cross demonstrate the deep-space love of Christ.
I let it slip the other week, during a conversation with a family from church, that I was (let’s go with) “knowledgeable” about Star Trek. “Are you a Trekkie?” they asked, surprised at the seeming admission, I think — to which I deferred with aplomb that my knowledge of Star Trek was caught rather than sought. That’s mostly true, I suppose. I grew up watching the Special Editions of George Lucas’s beloved and timeless Star Wars trilogy, with Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) always being considered as an awkward wannabe in my world of science-fiction entertainment. My cousins were immovably faithful to Gene Roddenberry’s brainchild and all its off-shoot shows, to which I applaud their devotion. I’ll admit that I watched not a few seasons of TNG, mostly because the commercials were laden with epic space battles between starships and I was just waiting for those moments to finally come to fruition. To get those, though, you have to wade through a lot of dialogue and drama that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. But I’ve probably belabored this point too far already. Time to hasten to what I intend to share with you.
Yes, even if you don’t like Star Trek, the expanse of space (“the final frontier”) offers the sublimest stage upon which to marvel at God’s dazzling grace. The psalmist certainly thought so: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6; cf. Job 26:13). We are right to stand agape at the wonder of the cosmos, knowing that all those worlds — explored and undiscovered — were formed with the mere vapor of his divine breath. Indeed, the unfathomable stretches of the universe ought to bring to mind the words of King David, where he exclaims, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. 8:3–4). Such thoughts form the basis for what author Philip Yancey endeavors to reflect upon in a recent article published by Christianity Today, entitled, “When You Feel Small, Look to the Cosmos and the Cross.” He writes:
Until a century ago, astronomers believed the universe consisted of our galaxy alone. Then, in the 1920’s, Edwin Hubble proved that one apparent cloud of dust and gas in the night sky, named Andromeda, was actually a separate galaxy. Now there were two. When NASA launched a large telescope into space for a clearer view, they appropriately named it after Hubble.
In 1995, a scientist proposed pointing the Hubble Space Telescope at one dark spot, the size of a grain of sand, to see what lay beyond the darkness. For ten days, the telescope orbited Earth and took long-exposure images of that spot. The result, which has been called “the most important image ever taken,” would astonish everyone. It turns out that tiny spot alone contained almost 3,000 galaxies! . . .
Scientists now believe that if you had unlimited vision, you could hold a sewing needle at arm’s length toward the night sky and see 10,000 galaxies in the eye of the needle. Move it an inch to the left and you’d find 10,000 more. Same to the right, or no matter where else you moved it. There are approximately a trillion galaxies out there, each encompassing an average of 100 to 200 billion stars.
In the years since, our home — this pale blue dot called Earth — has not stopped shrinking in comparative stature. Now it is found to be a mid-sized planet orbiting a mid-rank star in one galaxy out of a trillion. How should we adapt to this humbling new reality? . . .
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul quotes what many believe to be a hymn from the early church. In a stately, lyrical paragraph, Paul marvels that Jesus gave up all the glory of heaven to take on the form of a man — and not just a man, but a servant — one who voluntarily subjected himself to an ignominious death on a cross (Phil. 2:6–7).
I pause and wonder at the mystery of Incarnation. In an act of humility beyond comprehension, the God of a trillion galaxies chose to “con-descend” — to descend to be with — the benighted humans on this one rebellious planet, out of billions in the universe. I falter at analogies, but it is akin to a human becoming an ant, perhaps, or an amoeba, or even a bacterium.
Yet according to Paul, that act of condescension proved to be a rescue mission that led to the healing of something broken in the universe . . . Philippians 2 gives a different slant on the Hubble telescope view of God. A God beyond the limits of space and time has a boundless capacity of love for his creations, no matter how small or rebellious they might be.
Humans will reach the furthest pockets of deep space before we begin to accurately quantify God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. And such is why contemplating “the final frontier” remains, perhaps, the most significant catalyst for worship. The depths of Christ’s love are understood the more we endeavor to consider the heights from which he descended. Which is to say that his love is unquantifiable, immeasurable, free — “greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell,” going “beyond the highest star” and reaching “to the lowest hell.”1 You and I cannot even begin to fathom Christ’s cosmic love for the likes of you and me.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frederick M. Lehman, 1917.