The Starry Sermon

The prolific atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he might say to God if upon death he discovered the divine. Here’s his witty response,“Sir, why did you take such pains to hide yourself?”

I don’t think Russell was merely being cheeky. I think he was being completely honest. And I think there is a lesson to be learned here that is thoroughly informed by Scripture.

The heavens declare the glory of God, says the Psalmist in Psalm 19. But we shouldn’t be too quick to assume the sky is sending a monolithic message. There’s more to the story. Paul says in the first chapter of Romans that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven. So in the former case the heavens declare glory, and in the latter case judgement.

So why the mixed message? It’s really not. It’s the same message, just received in two separate ways. The believer looks heavenward and sees glory, the unbeliever senses condemnation. This juxtaposition of Psalms 19 and Romans 1 sheds some light on the contemporary atheist campaign.

Perhaps the modern vitriol aimed at persons of faith is a reaction against this starry sermon of moral accountability. This is illustrated in the famous quote by Immanuel Kant, which is engraved on his tombstone, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Why the connection? I think it’s because the two are inseparably intertwined. The heavens are raining down divine data. And it seems one’s presuppositions regarding God have everything to do with how the information is decoded.

Some will resonate with the famous scientist Isaac Newton who once said, “This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent being…whom I call the Lord God.” Others will side with Bertrand Russell and question how exactly a Creator is to be deduced from the constellations.

The brilliant physicist, and ardent atheist, Lawrence Krauss recently said the immense size of the universe reveals that humanity is completely insignificant. That’s not at all what the Christian sees. Because there is a Creator above, there is also objective meaning below. Ergo, we are not insignificant. But this exalted position comes with a price tag, namely moral accountability.

But for the Christian who rightly understands that the maker of the heavens and the earth took on human flesh to live a sinless life, die a substitutionary death, raise to defeat death and the grave, and ascend into the heavens to intercede on our behalf: this is glory. But for the unbeliever: this is judgement.

The stars are telling us something. And what we hear might just tell us something about ourselves. And more importantly about the One who made the heavenly hosts and set them in their place.

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” —C.S. Lewis