For a lot of people, the thought of the night sky, with its constellations of stars, reminds them of the vastness of the universe. Scientists tell us that our sun is a fairly ordinary star in an obscure corner of but one of many vast galaxies. From the immensity of the universe to the insignificance of our world seems but a logical step.
A song from the musical Carousel sums up the impression very clearly: “You can’t even count the stars in the sky, and compared to the sky the sea looks small. And two little people, you and I, we don’t count at all.”
Modern astronomers have indeed discovered an immensely larger universe than previous generations ever dreamed of. That does not mean that the ancients thought the universe was compact. The second-century astronomer Ptolemy wrote that, considering the distance of the stars, the earth must be considered a point without magnitude.
It may come as a surprise that the ancients, too, considered the earth insignificant compared to the rest of the universe. Only they were moved by the brightness of the stars, not their distance. The earth produced no light of itself. Light, glory, came from the sun. When it set, all became dark, except the distant moon and more distant stars.
So the ancients thought of the heavens as glorious and the earth as inglorious. By placing the earth where everything else revolved around it, they did not exalt it. Instead, it seemed like the bottom of the universe, to which everything base and inglorious sank. And that explains why so many of them worshiped the sun, moon, and stars.
Whether the glorious brightness then or the vastness now, something about the heavens has always made people feel weak and insignificant by comparison. Even in the Bible, David wrote in Psalm 8:3-4, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?”
But David did not, like the pagans, conclude that man is nothing. He answered his own question in the same poem, “You have made him little lower than God.” He looked at the night sky, but also at God, who created everything, including the human race. If God cares about us, if we matter to God, then we have intrinsic value.
The sun rises and sets in a predictable rhythm. The moon, stars, and planets each rise and set on their own different rhythm. In all the vastness of space, everything is always where it belongs. Nothing gets lost.
The stars don’t care about the earth or any of the people on it, but God does. God, who is vaster than the universe, greeted microscopic beings and subatomic particles. David knew nothing about them, but he knew God. He had experienced God’s love
Jesus later said that God knows how many hairs each of us have. He said that a no sparrow has ever died without God noticing. If we look at the sky and think only of the vastness we can see, we will feel lonely. If we look at it and think about the greater vastness of God and the wideness of his love for us, we will know that we are not alone, and that we are cared for.