By the time you read this essay, the total solar eclipse of 2017 will be four days in our rearview mirror. NASA says the last time this solar event occurred was in 1979; the next one won't be seen in North America until 2024. It's a pretty big deal.
Apparently, the sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon and around 400 times farther from the Earth. So on Aug. 21, when these celestial beings lined up, their apparent size was more or less equal leading the "tiny" moon to block the huge sun. It is a remarkable "coincidence."
Perhaps it is more. Perhaps it is evidence of design. In fact, those distances are vital to life on our planet. Any closer to the sun and we would burn; any farther away and we would freeze. If the moon were any closer or farther, we would be dealing with tidal waves and flooding. One astronomer suggests there are 75 parameters which must be met for a planet like ours to sustain life — everything from magnetic fields to ocean/continent ratio. The likelihood of such a planet simply occurring in the universe is about a one-in-a-23 trillion shot.
Add to our amazing good luck of a planet that can support life, the eclipse reminds us that we're in a remarkable place to study the universe, too. Ours is the only moon of the 65 major moons in the solar system that perfectly eclipses the sun. And when it does, we learn. Einstein's theory of relativity was proven by an eclipse (we saw light bend just as he theorized). A 19th century eclipse revealed to scientists the sun's atmosphere and composition. No telling what our great scientists discovered on Monday.
According to the documentary film The Privileged Planet, "the evidence we can uncover from our Earthly home points to a universe that is designed for life, and designed for discovery."
And so the first words of the Bible remind us. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth ... ." These opening words couldn't be more profound and simple at the same time. As humans, our acceptance or rejection of this truth either leads us to purpose or hopelessness.
Without a design, there is no purpose. If our planet's existence is just one massive coincidence, then it serves no more useful purpose than simply existing. But, if it was designed to support human life, then that is something quite different. We humans might give more thought to its stewardship and what we allow to go on around here.
That leads to you and me. We are not coincidence, either. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:27-28).
Think, for a moment, of the purposeless philosophical rambling all around us. With every side claiming moral high ground, we debate problems with race, gender, gender equality, sexuality and marriage. If we erase "in the beginning, God" from the debate, there is no moral, purposeful foundation and no one can win. We just shout at each other.
Every one of these current issues is dealt with in this simple creation statement. God made different races ... and they each bear his image (one no more than another). Females bear the image of God ... so do males ... so do babies ... so do people with special needs (also note that only two genders exist). Sexuality within marriage leads to the continuation of the species ... other types of sexuality do not. God did all of this on purpose.
Anselm of Canterbury described this in his famous watchmaker's analogy. If an ancient were to stumble upon a watch with all its gears and springs intricately working in coordination, he would never arrive at the conclusion that the watch just somehow happened to exist. The complexity of the watch demands it had a creator.
Our world is the same way; so is the human race. When we reject him, there's a very real sense of self rejection — we simply don't know who we are. But I would add one more suggestion. Not only does the design of this world suggest a master craftsman, but the beauty of the earth and her inhabitants also suggests a master artist.
When God made the earth, he said it was "good." When he made humans, he said it was "very good." We saw a glimpse of the earth's beauty on Aug. 21. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1)
And though it is our own ugliness that often grabs headlines, there is beauty within us as well. "What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority." (Psalm 8:4-6, NLT)
Finding that beauty comes when we embrace God and his purpose for us ... when we embrace his image in us. Perhaps then, imbued with purpose, we might be better stewards of the planet he gave us and perhaps we might better get along with each other.
James A. Mann, Ph.D., is a Denton native and the lead pastor of New Life Church of Denton. He is an assistant professor of New Testament at Liberty University School of Divinity located in Lynchburg, Virginia.