Many years ago I saw the cartoon Cosmic Zoom by Eva Szasz (National Film Board, 1968) and was awed by the glory of God’s creation. This cartoon starts with a boy and dog rowing on the Ottawa River just behind the parliament buildings, then zooms out till a few minutes later we see the whole known creation. The video then zooms back in until it eventually shows how atoms are constructed. The whole cartoon takes about eight minutes. There are several other movies using this idea of starting with humans scaling up to see the whole creation and then scaling down to atoms and quarks, including Powers of Ten (1977) by Eames and Cosmic Eye (2012). (All three are easily found on the web).
What overwhelms me when seeing any of these films is the scale, size and complexity of the universe God created. At both the large astronomical scale and at the micro atomic scale, the richness of existing things is awe-inducing. When we look at our DNA and the way neurons in our brain are connected, we are reduced to silence by the construction of God’s world. The challenge of God to Job in the last few chapters (38-41) still stands before us. We know an incredible amount about God’s world at both the large and small scale, but it still leaves us with the phrase, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7a). We have seen and understand more than Job, but there is still much we do not know, and the beauty and richness of the creation is beyond words and understanding.
This richness of the creation speaks to the nature and scale of its creator. If we cannot imagine the scale and limits of the creation, then what can we say about the one who set it into being? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is how the Scripture starts. Science in all its power makes us humble in the face of the creator.
‘Out of the storm’
When I attend worship at my local church each Sunday, I find that this sense of awe and wonder of standing before the Creator of this universe seems to be missing. There is clearly a place to recognise that Jesus stood on this earth as one of us and that our relation to God is mediated by the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. Without this intervention of God into the creation, we might not be in a position to know God. But it is another thing to suggest that we can simply be friends with God as we can with our fellow humans. The Word of God that spoke out of the whirlwind to Job is not a large presence in our Sunday morning worship.
Part of this can be seen in the physical nature of our worship; we do not have prayer benches in our churches to kneel in prayer, and we do not bow down to our Lord on prayer mats. In some churches they stand when the gospel – the good news of God – is read. We stand for God’s salutation and benediction and on occasion to sing, but often it seems more an opportunity to stretch than a move of respect. In our services we have periods of silence, but these are times to reflect to ourselves and perhaps silently pray to God. They do not seem to be times to listen for God’s word to us, or even just to be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20). Our church buildings are modest and do not inspire the awe of some of the great cathedrals in other traditions. We argue that the building is really just an unimportant shell for the true church which is the body of believers.
What should be the place of respect and awe in our reformed liturgy and theology? When Christ died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Does that mean we can now approach God as we would our neighbour? Are we walking on holy ground in church, and should we symbolically remove our sandals the way Moses did when he met God in the burning bush? What do our children learn from our casual, relaxed attitude to our worship? I don’t know the answers to these questions but do feel that the awe I sense in the lab should also be evident in my weekly corporate worship.
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