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Touching the face of God

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Scripture Topic: Psalm 8

It’s been an interesting week for Mother Nature. The longest lunar eclipse of the century occurred nine days ago, though people in North America were unable to see it. Mars was closer to Earth last week than it has been since 2003. It won’t be closer to us for another 269 years.

The Moon and Venus were amazingly proximate to each other last month. And next Saturday, we’ll be treated to a partial solar eclipse, followed by the Perseid Meteor Shower next Sunday and Monday.

While the skies have been fascinating, the news from nature on the ground has been heartbreaking.

This week, there were sixteen active wildfires burning across California. One story was especially devastating: a man went to a doctor’s appointment, leaving his wife and their two great-grandchildren at home. A wildfire came up the hill to their back door. They called him for help, but he couldn’t get back in time. He was on the phone with them when the fire consumed their home and killed them.

From the floods on the East Coast to the extreme heat in the southwest and severe storms in the Midwest, the weather has been catastrophic. When the world God made turns deadly, it’s hard not to fault its Creator. If your new car breaks down, you’ll blame the manufacturer. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t come with a warranty.

We know that we live in a fallen world (Romans 8:22), that natural disasters didn’t happen in the Garden of Eden. But the Bible is filled with times God intervened in the world he made, from parting the Red Sea to parting the flooded Jordan River to stilling the Sea of Galilee. When he doesn’t intervene today, we ask why and wonder how we can trust him with the storms in our own lives.

The miracle of creation

Psalm 8 begins: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v. 1a). “Lord” translates YHWH, God’s personal name that he revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14). “Our Lord” translates Adonai, God’s collective name as ruler of all people and creation.

In other words, he is both our personal God and our universal King.

His “name” denotes his character. In this case, his character is “majestic” (the Hebrew means “magnificent, splendid, powerful”). It is so “in all the earth,” not just in Israel. In a time when people believed in territorial deities who ruled specific nations or areas, David knew that his God was the true Lord of the world.

Let’s think about the world God rules for a moment.

If we were standing at our planet’s equator, we would be spinning at a thousand miles an hour. (On the poles, we would be standing still but turning in a circle.) Wherever we are, we are on a planet that is traveling through space at 67,000 miles an hour.

Life on Earth ranges from bacteria so small that 13,000 of them would fit inside a single strand of human hair to redwoods that grow more than three hundred feet tall. And our God made all of that.

What’s more, he is Lord of the entire universe: “You have set your glory above the heavens” (v. 1b).

Imagine yourself outside on a clear night in the country. You may see a few hundred stars, but that’s out of several hundred billion in our galaxy.

And there are one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. As telescope technology in space improves, that number is likely to double to about two hundred billion. Not stars or planets, but galaxies.

Scientists estimate that there are one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. (That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.) And that number will increase as we can see further into God’s heavens.

Your Father made all of that.

The miracle of man

Now David turns his attention to us: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (vv. 3–4). It’s an excellent question.

Compared to the rest of his creation, we are amazingly fragile creatures. A human baby is completely defenseless, compared with ducks that can swim and horses that can walk shortly after birth. We are also the only species that sins against our Maker.

As Mark Twain observed, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”

Nonetheless, as David continues, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 5). Here he refers to angels who dwell above us in heaven.

God has crowned us “with glory and honor”—the phrase could be translated, “impressive splendor.” We are indeed impressive and splendid.

Your blood vessels, if connected in a straight line, would circle the globe four times. If your DNA were uncoiled, it would stretch from Earth to Pluto and back. There are more connections in your brain than stars in the Milky Way galaxy. There are 5,000 times more cells in your body than there are people on the planet.

In addition to making us, God made the world for us: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (vv. 6–8).

“Sheep and oxen” refers to domesticated animals, while “beasts of the field” points to wild animals. We are over the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and all that lives in the oceans. Animals, birds, fish—all are under our dominion.

According to a 2011 count, the natural world contains 8.7 million species of life. There are 18,000 species of birds, more than 5,000 species of mammals, and more than two million species of marine life. God placed us over all of this.

We have done nothing to deserve any of this.

Our place in God’s creative order is not the result of our merit, but his favor. He has given us the intellectual and physical abilities to fulfill his created purpose for us. We can no more take credit for our mastery over beasts, birds, and fish than we can take credit for our height or eye color. All is by his grace.

The miracle of grace

Then our Father demonstrated his grace even more miraculously. Not just by making our world or by making us, but by entering our world as one of us.

His Son left his throne in glory for our crown of thorns. He left the worship of angels for the ridicule of crowds. The One who made all of life chose to die.

The sinless Son of God became sin for us, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Now, because of his grace, we can have not just life but eternal life. We can live not just on this fallen planet but in his perfect paradise. We can know God not just as our Creator but as our Father.

All is by his grace.

What does the creative, miraculous, gracious love of our Father mean for us in a world filled with disease and disaster? It means this: we have a choice to make: we can choose to see our Creator through the prism of what we don’t understand about his creation, or through the prism of what we do understand about his creation.

We can lean into the disasters and diseases in our fallen world and hold God responsible for them. We can do this, even though the world is broken because of the Fall and human sin, not because of his providence (Romans 8:22). Since we don’t understand why he allows the storms of our world, we can decide not to trust him with the storms in our lives.

Or we can lean into the wonders and majesty of creation and glorify their Creator as a result. We can measure what we don’t understand by what we do understand. We can decide that a God who can make bacteria so tiny that 13,000 can fit into a human hair can care for us. We can decide that a God who can make a body with enough DNA to stretch to Pluto and back can design our lives. We can decide that a King who rules a universe with one billion trillion stars can rule us.

When we do, we’ll say with David: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Conclusion

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was a young pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, killed in action during World War II. Among his effects was found this poem:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbled mirth

of sunsplit clouds—and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and

swung—high in the sunlit silence.

Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting winds along,

and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air,

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue, I’ve topped

the windswept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high

untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

—John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

So can we.