To The Edge of the Universe and Back

My current wonderment, quite truthfully, is beyond what words can capture.

All because of a telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), to be precise.

Launched on an Ariane 5 rocket in December of 2021, the JWST arrived at its intended “parking place” (the L2 Lagrange Point) a month later in January of 2022. The L2 Lagrange Point is a segment of space where the combination of gravitational favorability and orbital mechanics make it possible for the JWST to remain in a relatively fixed position with a minimal amount of energy required for course correction.

Just a day ago, after a six-month commissioning phase, the JWST began (if you will permit me to borrow the language of “Star Trek”) “its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds” and many very old ones.

The early glimpses afforded by the JWST of previously unseen cosmic realities are staggering.

Radiant light generated in the ancient past and just now received, providing a sense of what distant galaxies looked like when the universe was much younger.

Mind-boggling distances spanned and eons of history observed as a result of the nexus of astonishing technological advancement and relentless scientific curiosity.

The stuff of science fiction becoming reality and ushering the world into a new era of what can be seen, explored, and known.

Wonderment. Nothing less.

It has me thinking about Creation with an energized gratitude.

Very often, conversations in faith communities about God’s creation of the universe fixate on methodology and technique. 

Did creation happen this way or that way? Did God accomplish everything in six literal days or do the six days symbolize eons? What about the dinosaurs? What about Cro-Magnons and cavemen? What about evolution? What about the cosmic processes and history of the universe that a space telescope might help the world to discover?

Such questions are vitally important and demand the attention of anyone wishing to honor science, its methodology, and its necessary search for all that can be scientifically known. The Church, in fact, sacrifices a significant portion of its integrity when it demonizes science. Or fears it. Or avoids it altogether. (Far too much of that in the church’s history.) The reality is that Science and Faith, while endeavoring to answer very different questions, share a common pursuit of what is truthful. It is that common pursuit that inspires me, as a person of faith, to celebrate the JWST with a childlike giddiness. 

When I look at the images from the JWST, I am inspired to offer prayers of thanksgiving for the God-given fields of science and technology and for the expanded knowledge they make possible.

After those earnest prayers, though, my scientific curiosity gives way to a different kind of truth—a truth that emerges, not from scientific methodology, but from a deeply-held conviction grounded in mystical revelation:

“In the beginning, GOD created…” (Genesis 1:1).

When persons of faith whisper that truth—the succinct and unembellished truth that “God created”—they remind themselves that the universe is not random; that individual lives are not arbitrary; and that God’s very nature is to bring dynamic creativity into voids and wastelands for the purpose of making them into something hopeful, something vibrant, something rich with life.

To be sure, the voids and wastelands are plentiful, and it does not require a space telescope to find them. 

Broken relationships. Addiction. A crippling sense of guilt or shame or regret. Agonizing grief over the loss of loved ones. Financial crisis. Devastating trauma. A cancer diagnosis. A struggle with depression that seems to hold one’s spirit captive.

Indeed, voids and wastelands abound. Perhaps you are currently in one.

If so, then be encouraged. Because there is a creative God nearby, bigger than the universe yet relational enough to take up residence in individual hearts. The God of whom I speak has a long and impressive track record of speaking life into wastelands and shining light into voids. 

The presence of this “life” and “light” will probably not mean that all the struggles will immediately disappear, since it usually takes some time for God’s creativity to reach its consummation (as the universe’s long and complicated history makes clear.) But the “light” and “life,” divine and steadfast, may very well generate a fresh breath to breathe in one’s pain, a new hope to illuminate one’s journey, and an encouraging glimpse of redemption that might just remind a soul of why the struggle is worth it.

Remember, in the beginning, God created. And here’s the best part:

God has been creating ever since.

A telescope is currently revealing a magnificent part of that Creation.

So is your life.