WORDS BY Kaylee Tornay
In the vast expanses of space where no human has ever wandered or achieved anything, celestial displays we named, nebulas, endure in continuous beauty and activity. Their only audience was heaven until we began to carefully observing them after the 11th century.
Nebulas are a diverse astronomical category, so here’s a layperson’s definition: they’re collections of interstellar space dust and charged particles that form big cloudy regions.
Our photographs have revealed to us how illuminated and stunningly colorful they are. They are both the birthplace and graveyards of stars. They are massive. They are mind-boggling. They are worth a pause here so you can Google them this instant.
For all their splendor, however, logic can only lead us to the conclusion that the One who created every nebula must far outshine even them in glory. Beyond this, we have promises from this God to provide things they never could: a loving heart, immeasurable wisdom and the only enduring hope of redemption for us who so quickly forget our size and place in the universe.
A burden is lifted in realizing that these incredibly beautiful and anarchic formations continually exist quadrillions of miles away. All the while, we go about managing our schedules, sitting in traffic, cleaning our homes, and worrying about the future. If we could remember these examples of God's beauty and magnitude in the mundanity of our days, perhaps we could hold onto hope and let go of the fears springing from our lack of control.
Gaining or regaining perspective on our smallness, while simultaneously realizing the unfathomable magnificence of the God who created both nebulas and us can be a powerful grace upon anxious and discouraged hearts. We do face big problems and our sins feel weighty and overwhelming. Our perspective is thrown off by the waves that rock us.
These natural limitations are exaggerated by opportunities the world provides for us humans to sow the seeds of pride, eat the bread of anxious toil, and essentially expend our energy in pursuit of our own greatness. Once it was the Tower of Babel and Nebuchadnezzar’s idol; now we jockey for attention on social media and sacrifice our health for career success, but the pattern remains established ― that we continue to choose those things rather than remain at peace in our smallness.
In the midst of these pitfalls, however, God has left us greater confirmation that He plans to use even our limits and our broken wanderings, by imbuing in us aspects of Himself. In all wisdom and from His loving heart, God continues to create us with abilities beyond mere existence or passive involvement in His story.
This Creator chose to make us in his image. His power is in us. We have not only the ability to shape our environments through our words and the works of our hands, but we also learn of our own identities partly through those environments. Some things about ourselves we know; other things He hides inside of us, using what's outside of us to reveal them.
Even so, our identity is likely never something we’re going to have “figured out." The Bible cuts no corners in spelling it out: because God is so big, our own identities also eclipse our cognition. And this is often frustrating ― which is probably why it is addressed in Ecclesiastes, the book that hammers home the futility of endeavor.
“What gains has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end" Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 (ESV).
The Preacher has grasped something here that we, too, must lay hold of: God has called us as humans to occupy the tension of being both tantalizingly aware of the bigger picture and yet unable to fathom it because it is far beyond our capacity for glory.
Yet even in this sometimes difficult truth, He is not far from or unknown to us. Hundreds of Bible verses reveal God’s powerful longings for His children, the unabashedly ardent love He knows us by, even as they also make clear that His love for us is yet part of a surpassingly greater plan than what we see. The book of Isaiah is full of the roiling beauty, pain and triumphant grace intermingling in how God has arranged this.
For all the feebleness of human attempts to gain control of this world, transcended as we are by the very nature of our origin, once again, the knowledge of nebulas can encourage us. We existed for centuries without the knowledge these celestial masterpieces, but eventually, we glimpsed what had been there all along, and our perspective of the universe was changed forever for us.
The fact that today we can pull up a nebula image in seconds serves as a sweet reminder that not only is it likely that hidden glories of God lay ahead for us to discover, but also that this great One beyond our comprehension desires, like us, that we would discover them in due time.