The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
~ Psalm 19:1-2
One of the saddest things about living in the city is that you can’t see the night sky in all its glory. When I’m taking our dog out for his bedtime walk, I can see maybe five or six stars – and I live in a part of the city that is not surrounded by skyscrapers. For those folks who grow up in the city and are never able to escape it from time to time, this verse probably loses all its power.
But for anyone who has seen the night sky lit up by millions of stars, undiminished by the intrusion of electricity, these words are a poignant illustration of God’s power and beauty.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Uganda for a short visit. We stayed in a small town, and the electricity in the town would go out pretty regularly. The town was over a hundred miles from the nearest city, so when the lights went out at night, the sky showed its full splendor.
It is impossible to describe the vastness of that star-lit sky. God’s handiwork was stunning.
One day, we took a movie about Jesus to a village further out in the bush. We set up a screen in the middle of a huge field, and we projected the movie out of the back of a Rav4. As twilight advanced into inky darkness, people started coming out of the trees around the field.
The man who had voiced the role of Jesus into the local language was from this village. An elder among them, a devoted follower of Jesus, he was much loved by his extensive family and friends.
While making the film, the crew went to the closest city to finish the final voiceover parts of the film. Along the way, they were attacked by bandits, and this dear man was hit by a bullet. His friends could do nothing but hold him in the back of the Land Rover as they continued to rush to the city. All the way, he kept murmuring, “Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them.” He died two days later.
A few years had passed since that tragic day by the time we took the movie to his village. As far as I know, the villagers had never seen it. But I am quite sure they knew the story of this man’s death. The electricity was palpable as people started gathering to watch the story of the life of Jesus, spoken in the voice of this man they had loved and lost.
The heavens seemed to reflect the spiritual electricity of the evening. Across the canvas of stars, heat lightning would illuminate the field and sky for a moment, disappearing only to reappear seconds later, bold and defined in its movement towards the earth. A photograph simply cannot do justice to the soul-encompassing power of that huge night sky. It was as if God himself was declaring the power of the Gospel, proclaimed in both the night sky and in the life of Jesus.
How can one even describe such beauty, such splendor and majesty? I felt myself small in the world – and glad that it was so. I was there as an observer, and my soul took in the magnificence of the night: the humid night air, the wonder of the stars, the pulsing energy of the people watching with baited breath as Jesus’ life unfolded before them.
Just before the scene where Jesus is crucified, the movie stopped. Someone got on a microphone and started talking. “What’s going on?” I whispered to my African friend sitting in front of me.
“He’s telling the people what’s about to happen, and what it means that Jesus died for us. He’s inviting them to respond to Jesus.”
An old, old man came forward first. Then a young child. Then the people started pouring down to pray and surrender to God. The electricity, both in the sky and in our hearts, was life-stirring.
The Apostle Paul said that God has revealed his eternal power and divine nature through the things that He made – the stars and the trees, the lightning and the fields. Most of all, in His people who forgive as He forgave. It is no wonder to me that, living in such close communion with the created world, the people in this village responded so whole-heartedly to the love shown them in the life of Jesus.
Having seen God’s eternal power and divine nature in the stunning nightly display of the heavens, and having known a man who would forgive those who killed him without cause, their hearts had already been beautifully prepared for the full story of God’s incredible love and forgiveness, power and divinity, as shown in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
It was a night that extravagantly displayed God’s handiwork, and it is forever emblazoned in my soul.