Last weekend, I had a faith-expanding experience. In my Saturday evening TV browsing, I stumbled upon a Discovery Channel episode of How the Universe Works: War of the Galaxies.1 My mind was blown by the immensity of it all. The “Milky Way,” the galaxy we live in, has one-half trillion stars; one of those is our sun. Earth is one of eight small planets orbiting around the sun. Our galaxy is one of 100 to 200 billion in the universe. As I watched, I felt smaller and smaller.
The next morning as we began the worship service at church, I was still somewhat star-struck by the vision of the unbelievably immense universe we live in. Then in one of our praise songs, or in the opening prayer, I heard the affirmation, “Lord, you are not just our God; you are God of the whole world!” It was meant to acknowledge how great and awesome our Creator God is, but in the context of the universe, it seemed like a tiny compliment to pay him.
When the first parts of our Bible were written in the Middle East, each tribe or nation seemed to have its own god, and whoever dominated in recent power struggles, their god was seen as boss over the others’ gods. Israel stood out in affirming that their god was the only true God,2 the Lord of lords and the Creator of the world, even though the Israelites were a relatively small and powerless clan, surrounded by mighty empires.
They lift up their voices; they sing for joy,
they shout from the west over the majesty of the LORD.
Therefore, in the east give glory to the LORD,
in the coastlands of the sea glorify the name of the LORD, the God of Israel.
From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
of glory to the Righteous One. (Isaiah 24:14-16)3
Of course, the known “world” of their day wasn’t very big, including only Arabia, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Egypt. Through exploration, conquest and commerce during the ages since, the “world” has expanded to encompass all the nations on every continent around the globe, and the monotheistic belief of tiny Israel has become dominant among world religions, through Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which are followed by more than half the world’s population.
I live in Pasadena CA, surrounded by Cal Tech, the Mount Wilson Observatory and Jet Propulsion Lab, and the setting for TV’s The Big Bang Theory, so I can’t ignore the amazing discoveries of astronomy and physics. I know that if the One we worship is the only true Creator God, the “world” that is his domain is the entire universe, all 100 billion galaxies, each including a half-trillion or so stars, some of which have little specks circling them, planets similar to our earth.4
Worship has always been done in a tension between PRAISE, which lifts God up to honor who he is as Creator and Lord, and PRAYER, which asks God to come down to solve problems in our personal daily lives. In the age in which we live, with our advanced knowledge of reality through scientific exploration, the potential distance between the Creator God and one tiny human creature has increased dramatically, and so should the wonder of our worship services.
In PRAISE, I say God is aloof, distant, light-years removed from my insignificant little desires.
In PRAYER, I say God is intimate, caring, focused on me, sensitive to my smallest needs.
My worship in AD 2023 has the potential to be far more profound and transforming than the worship of a Jerusalem temple priest in 500 BC.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
1 Episode 77 in the ten-season series. For more on this subject, see my earlier Messenger article, Your God Is Waaaay Too Small:
2 Other religious belief systems taught that there was a single deity behind all the tribal gods, but Israel was uniquely monotheistic as the first religion to conceive the notion of a personal universal God.
3 For other Old Testament passages that celebrate God’s worldwide dominion, see Psalm 2, Psalm 8, Job 37:14-18, Isaiah 40:21-28, Isaiah 44:24.
4 Science geeks may want to move from the macro (the immensity of the universe) to the micro (atoms, to protons and neutrons, to electrons and quarks, the infinitesimally smallest bits of reality). Go small, and the Creator God is there too!