When I was in high school, I helped chaperone a trip for some of the kids of the church to go out at night to Hoffman Hills, a hiking trail and recreational area near Menomonie, Wisconsin. Much of the trail went through wooded areas that mostly covered up the night sky. But once we stepped into the open, we were met with one of the most amazing sights I have witnessed. A vast river of stars illuminated the night sky. What seemed like millions of stars dazzled overhead. We could see the Milky Way clearly stretched out above us, and the full moon allowed us to see the awed reactions of everyone in the group.
In moments like this you feel very small as you compare yourself to the vastness of the universe around you. God’s creation is an incredible testament to the power of the God we serve. I often ponder how it is possible that anyone could have created such a majestic sight, much less keep it running in perfect order for millennia. And yet, that is the God we have. King David said, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4). He describes God hanging the stars as if they were Christmas ornaments. It was that easy for him! What a powerful God!
This God who hung all those magnificent stars in their place is the same God who molded each one of us in his own image! The problem with us is that, unlike the stars, we rebel against God. As I am writing this, we are in the midst of riots that have spread nationwide after the killing of George Floyd. It has been a horrible testimony to the depths of the wretchedness of our human nature. We watched the senseless killing of a man, which then turned into protests that escalated in many places to the point of full-force riots. And through the last couple of weeks there have been multiple shootings and many more have died. Along with the arson, looting, and vandalism, it paints a grim picture of the human race.
It has been hard to watch or read the news through all of this. It seems every story published is just another story about someone treating someone else horrifically. We simply don’t have the decency to treat our fellow humans as inherently valuable. We fail to recognize that they too are made in the image of the Creator. And all this comes on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic that has given us several months of worry and unrest throughout the world. Worry, unrest, and violence have been the themes of the year.
My mind goes back to that question David asked: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them?” Who are we that God should care? Why should he look upon us at all? When he looks down at this world and sees our violence toward one another, our hatred toward one another, the utter disregard we have for him and his perfect will and commands—why doesn’t God just wipe us off the map and be rid of us? Taking God’s perspective for a moment, if your creation hated you and hated your other creations, would you keep them around? Would you have any interest in them? I am not sure that I would. I would probably destroy those creations or leave them to destroy each other in a hopeless mess.
But that is not the way that God deals with us. Instead, the Almighty God, who hung the stars in the sky and created all things—he stepped into Creation and became a man. He took our place to pay the penalty for all our sins. He died so that we might live. He died so that all our sins might be washed away. He died so that we might be completely forgiven. Forgiven of everything. There is no sin so great that Jesus’ death did not atone for it.
Then, incredibly, the grave could not hold him. He rose from the dead three days later, so that we too might be raised to life through him. We receive forgiveness and eternal life. We have a hope that is sure. We have the hope that, where he is, we will be too.
This whole year has felt like the world is unraveling at the seams and every month seems to bring a new and greater challenge and hardship. But the One who created all things—the One who created you—is still working all things for his eternal glory. If God loved us enough to see us in the midst of our wretchedness and sinfulness and rebellion, yet still was willing to die for us, don’t you think he would not let that death be in vain? He is the One who will bring us through all of this. He has not left. He is still the One in control.
We do not know what tomorrow brings or how all of this will turn out, but we can know for sure that we have a Savior who loved us enough to conquer sin and death, and who is still the almighty God who hung the stars and created all things. Nothing can change that. The last verse of a gospel hymn sums it up well:
I don’t know about tomorrow,
It may bring me poverty;
But the one who feeds the sparrow,
Is the One who stands by me.
And the path that be my portion,
May be through the flame or flood,
But his presence goes before me,
And I’m covered in his blood.
Many things about tomorrow.
I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.
[Ira Stanphill, 1950]
It is my sincere prayer for you that you know and believe that the God who fashioned all those magnificent stars is the One who has conquered sin and death for you. May you rest in the hope that he is still in control in all of this, ever reaching out to you with his great love.
Rev. Zachary Smith is Pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in West Union, Iowa.