When my new primary physician sought an answer to my question about a new medication, it took her only 45 seconds to find an explanation.
She asked about my next session with a particular specialist. Even before I could remember, she reported, “Your appointment is a year from now.”
All this information was on her laptop. There was not a single piece of paper in view!
When I returned home from running errands, the results of a lab test and her recommendations were on a “my portal” page – this time on MY computer!
It seemed superfluous, then, for her to greet me and ask, “Good morning. How are you?” I wanted to say, “You already know, don’t you!”
Even more incredible, is that all that same information is – in my pocket! I insist it is a phone, but it is really a six-inch by three-inch computer which offers a portal to a world of information, media resources, breaking news, and grocery store bargains!
Massive and sometimes unnoticed technological achievement is all around us (and in us!)– and absolutely essential – to managing our every day.
James Surowiecki writes perhaps with a bit of dismay that “Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle.”
Sixty years ago, before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he made this frightening but perceptive observation: “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, - and all forms of human life.”
The world - the universe - as we keep learning about them change with every discovery, every invention, and raises questions we never thought of before.
Wernher von Braun described a gift he received this way:: “For my confirmation, I didn't get a watch and my first pair of long pants, like most Lutheran boys. I got a telescope. My mother thought it would make the best gift.”
Fast forward from Von Braun’s confirmation telescope to the Hubble telescope. In 1990 it began to orbit our earth every 96 minutes from 342 miles above us. One report tells us “Hubble has made more than one million observations. These include detailed pictures of the birth and death of stars, galaxies billions of light years away, and comet pieces crashing into Jupiter's atmosphere.”
“Galaxies billions of light years away.” What is a light year?
One interesting description: “Let's say that a star is 1 million light years away. The light from that star has traveled at the speed of light to reach us. It has taken the star's light 1 million years to get here. The light we see was created 1 million years ago. So the star we see is how the star looked a million years ago, not how it looks today.”
I simply cannot imagine a million years, or billions of years– or the notion that we are peering into space at the very creation of some stars themselves! Can you?
Arthur C. Clarke offered this understated observation, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Now take a huge hop, skip and jump to more recent events. On Christmas day, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched from earth to its destination six trillion miles away! By July, 2022, we were treated to first images from deeper into the universe than human kind has ever peered – calculated to be some 13.6 billion light years into the past.
Wrapping my head around such “astronomical” matters measured in light years is exhausting. And exhilarating. Especially when considered through the lens of Psalm 8.
Imagine one of God’s faithfuls gazing into the star-filled night sky. Seeing the immense clouds of twinkling lights, with no super-lenses to enhance the view, the psalmist sings:
1 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! …
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are humans that you are mindful of them,
mortals[a] that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God[b]
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When Tom Fettke and Linda Johnson wrote the choral anthem, “The Majesty and Glory of Thy Name,” the lyrics stay close to the words of Psalm 8. Watch the video and notice how the piano, the organ, a string ensemble and a quartet of singers in person are joined by a large virtual choir! Amazing technology!
In the era of psalm-writers, their view of creation was limited to what the unaided eye could see: moon, stars, sheep, birds, fish, oxen. Even what they could see impressed them with the seeming insignificance of mortals.
As technology and scientific discovery expand, however, we grapple with questions the psalmist could not have asked. We wonder about the possibilities that life in some form exists somewhere in that vast array of lights out there in space.
As the new fabulous James Webb Space Telescope offers us the clearest images ever of galaxies beyond galaxies, and even shows us events occurring at the beginning of the universe, we may discover the God of Life did not stop after creating the first Adam and Eve, and perhaps created life even in those “alien” venues.
Which circles us back to Psalm 8 and its assertion that God invites us to be stewards and caretakers of this amazing planet. David Brower inserts some humbling perspective, however. “For … years we have learned how to take the Earth apart- and we’re very good at it. But we’ve learned very little about putting it back together.”
No one knows for sure that it was King David who wrote Psalm 8, but he (she?) contrasts the awesome works of God with the mundane abilities of mortals.
A commentator observes: “Here in Psalm 8, a comparison is made between the scope of God's vast creation and the nature of humanity. The same God who made massive stars, an immense cosmos, and innumerable planets also made us…. this contrast … amazes David, who is awed to think that God would care about insignificant people when (God) has also made such mighty things… David is amazed … that God would grant … such an important role… (to) frail, limited beings… to superintend (God’s) creations (Genesis 1:28).”
Dr J. Clinton McCann, Jr. writes that if our assigned role as stewards does not contribute to the majesty of God, it could result in the destruction of the earth for ourselves and future generations. He writes that we court disaster when we forget that it is God, not ourselves, who is in the center of things and that any authority and prowess we might have are derived from God’s gifts.
“The …consequences are … frighteningly evident – the depletion of the ozone layer, the ‘greenhouse effect,’ the threat of nuclear annihilation, the problem of hazardous waste, the disappearance of plant and animal species” are but a few examples of the consequences.
Further he asserts when “God-given dominion has been replaced by human autonomy…the result is death and destruction – for the earth, for ourselves, for future generations…… Praising God …reminds us we are not free to do whatever our science and technology enable us to do.” *
That sentiment is beautifully captured by Fred Pratt Green in his hymn poem:
When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried,
Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes, peeking into an ever expanding universe,
draw us back to that most elemental question: “What is humankind that You, O God, are mindful of them?”
God IS mindful of us!
And so we join the choirs
“as .. the whole creation cries Hallelujah”
to sing with unreserved devotion
“O Lord our God,
the majesty and glory of your name
transcends the earth
and fills the heavens!
* A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms, J Clinton McCann, Jr. 1993