“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Pslam 19:1)
Last week I was on a backpacking trip with our students in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness where the stars were so bright, so crystalline and vivid that most of the group couldn’t resist sleeping outside. I remember waking up several times during the night and being able to tell immediately how long I had slept by seeing how far the thick band of stars that makes the Milky Way had rotated through the sky.
I decided to sleep on a ridge just above where our group was camped. I made my bed on a small patch of grassy mountain goat trail at the base of a 60 foot granite slab that sloped up the mountain at a gentle 40(ish) degrees. Where the slope of the rock dumped into the grassy spot I used the pitch of the granite to make just the right angle of pillow to prop my head up, so I could look out and see a 200 degree view of the brilliant starry skies framed on the edges by the jagged ridgelines of the peaks that we had made our home for those few days.
I woke up to the sound of tumbling rock. Above me, four baby mountain goats were playing a rambunctious goat version of “king of the mountain” each trying to wrestle each other off a small cliff in and attempt to gain the high ground. In the process they kicked a lunchbox size rock that came tumbling down the granite slab toward me.
Of course no amount of describing the scene will be able to replicate the raw and powerful reality of being in the midst of God’s glory the way I was sleeping out on that ledge. There is something incredible and immeasurable about removing human distraction and putting yourself in the midst of places where God’s mastery remains untouched, unspoiled, un-desecrated.
I have a feeling David had spent a few nights somewhere like I was when he wrote Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (vs. 1-4)
Yes, that starts to hint at what I was thinking while I sat under the stars. But keep reading. In verse 7 David turns his attention from the raw glory of God’s creation, to a focus on God’s character. He talks specifically about God’s Holiness and how it’s revealed and interacted with by and for humans. The “law” of the Lord, the “statutes of the Lord” the “precepts of the Lord” the “commands of the Lord” are for David the chief way that God had interacted with humanity.
David draws a direct line from God’s incredible work and holiness, to our living by using the law and precepts of the Lord to connect the dots. The line goes straight from the person of God to our ethics (ethics = how we make decisions about what the right thing to do is). He draws it so fast it almost seems like a change in subject.
Sitting out on the ledge under the stars it occurred to me in a new way that the jump in Psalm 19 was no accident, it wasn’t a radical subject shift, but instead the only logical reaction to what was set in front of me. Sitting under those stars, blown away by God’s incredible work, my natural reaction was to ask God questions:
What kind of man do you want me to be? What kind of husband? What kind of father? What kind of pastor? How should I follow you?
David wanted to follow God. So he started by taking a look at how God was at work around him. Then he put himself into that big picture and asked himself “what’s my place in this whole thing.”
The only real, worthy, dignifying, appropriate response to God’s good creation is to want to live a life that sees yourself first and foremost as a created being. And not just any created being, but one that has been uniquely gifted and marked by the image of the creator himself. A being that this incredible, wildly awesome creator has sought out time and time again. A being that has been allowed access to what by all accounts is an inaccessibly large and powerful God.
This friends, is why removing yourself from your day-to-day routine to make space for hearing from, interacting with, and being moved by God is so important. So many of us start with the questions “How should I live?” and wind up with confusing or distorted answers. Instead start with “Who is God?” and you’ll find the “How should I live?” questions answering themselves.
Sitting under a starry sky, there is an incredible pull that goes from God’s character to our ethics. For our neighbors who don’t know God the opposite is true: our ethics will draw a line straight to God’s character. May we, with David hope that our lives help that line be drawn straight and true for the sake of both God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. (vs. 12-13)
Noah can be reached via email here.