The first images from the James Webb telescope inspired awe last week. The first image that was shared publicly depicts dozens, even a hundred heavenly bodies in the night sky. A few of them are stars. Most of them are galaxies. I learned that some of the galaxies looked curved because their light has been warped on its way here by the gravity of “galaxy clusters” between them and us. My favorite tweet this week said “Man, whoever designed the carpet at those Cosmic bowling alleys really nailed it.”
The most striking news about these images is just how many galaxies have been captured in such a small portion of the night sky. Astronomers have said this one image takes up about as much of our field of vision as a grain of sand held at arm’s length.
Imagine that. A pinhole, really. And this much universe can come through.
People of faith the world over have seen these and marveled at God’s handiwork, remembering the words of the Psalmist,
“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Psalm 19)
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are humans that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8)
Yet, in the letter to the Colossians, all this stargazing had become a concern. Colossae was a metropolitan enough city that there were people of all kinds of different cultures and religions. Enough of them that their gravitational pull of this culture-cluster had started to warp the light of the gospel which had been first proclaimed there.
The Colossians had become lost in space, captured, captivated by the contemplation of the stars, the signs in the heavens. They began clawing after charms and predictions that led them to drift like stardust from the hope they had been promised would keep them tethered to the Truth.
A woman named Auburn Sandstrom is now a writing instructor at a university, but a number of years back she was lost. She tells of one night spent on a dirty carpet, in a cluttered apartment, suffering from withdrawal from drug addiction. Her husband was out (up to no good). Her baby was crying, and she was desperate. After a fine upbringing, a college education, a master’s degree, a series of well-intentioned choices had led her now to the depths of despair.
“I was laying on the floor,” she said, “with a phone in one hand and in the other was this little folded up wrinkled up piece of paper I’d been carrying around for years with no intention of using it but not quite able to get rid of it.
“I hadn’t talked to my mom or my dad or any family for four or five years but somehow my mom had gotten me this piece of paper in the mail with a phone number on it of a Christian counselor. Well, this night, things got bad enough that I decided to call.”
It was 2:00 in the morning when she called the number on the paper, and a person answered on the other end. “Hello?” he said. She said you could tell he had been awakened from a deep sleep.
“Uh Hi. My name is Auburn, and someone gave me this number and said you were a Christian counselor, and I just thought maybe I could call and just talk to you for a little while?”
“Sure, sure,” said the person on the other line, “what’s going on?”
It had been years since she had told anyone the truth, but that night it all came out. Her addiction, her abusive relationship, her neglect of her child, her depression, anxiety, regret, shame. She told the man all of it, and he just listened.
“He was so incredibly kind, and present, and gentle,” she said, “and he stayed there on the line with me from 2:00 AM when it was pitch dark, until the sun rose in the morning. But you know what? It helped. I was feeling a little bit better, I was feeling calm. I was feeling like I could splash some water on my face and I can probably do this day.
“I thanked him and said ‘Wow, you really helped me. How long have you been a Christian counselor?’
“He replied and said ‘Now Auburn, I’ve been kind of trying to avoid this subject, but, but just… What I need you to do is just not hang up the phone, okay?’
“Okay,” she said.
“You know that number you called? Wrong number.”
Auburn says “I didn’t hang up on him. I never learned his name. I never talked to him again, I don’t think I took any of his advice, but I need to tell you that the next day I experienced something that I’ve heard called ‘Peace that passes understanding’ because I had experienced that there was random love in the universe, and that some of it was unconditional, and that some of it was for me.”
She ends the story with these words, “This is what I know. In the deepest, blackest night of despair and anxiety, it only takes a pinhole of light, and all of grace can come in.”
It is possible to focus a telescope through a pinhole the size of a grain of sand and discover scores of galaxies illuminating an undiscovered universe. It is possible to gaze into the night sky and marvel at the handiwork of God, and be convinced that there must be a Creator.
But the greatest Good News is that when we stargaze we need not wonder who this Creator is, for this creating God has not remained distant in some far off universe. This God has come to us, and given himself to us in ordinary gifts like bread, wine, water, and wrong numbers at the right time.
In the words of the Apostle Paul,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God has reconciled all things to himself, making peace through the blood of his cross.”Colossians 1
All it takes is a pinhole of light, and all of grace can come in. And guess what? It already has.
The invisible is still being made visible. Even to this day he is making peace that passes understanding by way of his cross. Not in some far off galaxy, but right here, right now, the God of the universe is here, with random unconditional love, given for you.