By Tom Ellsworth
My favorite moments in life are the ones filled with such a sense of awe that words are inadequate to describe them. They are most often unplanned and unexpected.
Viewing the vastness of the ocean as the waves break upon the shore and feeling as insignificant as the sand underfoot—that’s one of those “awe” moments. Driving up Pike’s Peak to stand in the cold, thin air and view the world below from that incredible summit is another “awe” moment.
Last summer, following the NACC in Phoenix, my wife, Elsie, and I drove to the Grand Canyon. Given that I love to fly, we bought tickets for the helicopter tour. Maintaining a proper weight and balance is critical for any flight, so we seven passengers were assigned seats accordingly. Elsie got the coveted seat next to the pilot, with a full view, and I was given a seat in back—no doubt to provide ballast. As we lifted off I was still bemoaning my back-seat, limited view, but in moments I was glued to the side window as the majestic rim of the canyon dropped away. What a glorious sight! I was in awe as the canyon snaked its way across northern Arizona.
Why has God provided such breathtaking scenes and experiences for us? I believe they serve as reminders to us that he is the source of everything inspiring and grand. What mortal could feel superior while standing at the base of a rugged, snowcapped mountain? What thinking individual could possibly feel important while catching the spray from deafening breakers as they hammer the rocky shoreline? What new parent could feel anything less than unspeakable love at the first sight and touch of his or her newborn child? Put all of these intense feelings together and that is how God wants us to experience him.
Can you imagine what it was like for Moses to be surrounded by the Presence of God on the mountaintop? It is no wonder his countenance glowed! I doubt that he was ever able to describe that moment of awe with words.
When the prophet Elijah was discouraged and frustrated in his ministry, God personally met him on the mountainside and awed him. He was a changed man after that. Who wouldn’t be?
God wants to be the awe moment of our lives. He provides many sources of help for the soul’s bleak and discouraging days: the light of his Word, the warmth of his family, the comfort of his Spirit, the summit experience of prayer—but nothing lifts the frustrations of life better than an awesome look at the majesty of God.
Let me share with you some of my favorite pictures of God’s awesome character. Nothing is more immense than the universe and yet, God permeates it all. Isaiah paints this picture for us,
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. . . . He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. . . . Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing (Isaiah 40:22, 26).
Isaiah also reminds his readers that the Lord has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and weighed the mountains and hills in his balance (see Isaiah 40:12).
The farthest visible galaxy is 13 billion light years away from our planet. Since light travels at 186,000 miles per second and since there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year, light will travel 5,865,696,000,000 miles in a year. Multiply that by 13 billion years, and that’s . . . well, you do the math. I can’t begin to comprehend that number or distance and yet, God is there.
And what about those galaxies we cannot see? He is there, too. In our own Milky Way there are an estimated 150 billion stars, and ours is only one of countless galaxies in the visible universe. I cannot even pronounce the numeric name of the estimated stars in the universe, and yet, God knows each star, planet, and moon by name.
How much water can you hold in one cupped hand? Perhaps a tablespoon at best. The earth has 139 million square miles of water three miles deep—all of it fits in the hollow of his hand.
The weight of the earth is estimated at 66 sextillion tons, and it gets heavier by about 25 tons daily (blame the space dust). God can tell you to the ounce what it weighs.
Now here is the best part: the Lord who names every star, holds the water in his hand, and weighs the earth in his balance, knows you, loves you, and wants to be the focus of your attention. Are you feeling a sense of awe yet?
Let me give you another snapshot. God is also visibly powerful in the tiny matters of life.
Experiencing God’s Love
The human hair appears so simple, and yet is as strong as aluminum. There are 5 million hair follicles in the body—the scalp alone contains 100,000 or more. Over its lifetime each individual follicle will produce 26 feet of hair. Collectively over a lifetime, the scalp will produce nearly 500 miles of hair. Granted some scalps seem to have taken a detour regarding hair growth, but the average remains astounding. Consider also that on a daily basis the average person loses 50-125 hairs. With more than 6 billion people on earth each losing hair daily, it is staggering to consider the assuring words of Jesus that the very hairs on our head are numbered by God.
From naming the stars to counting hairs, God’s power is incomprehensible. And on those days when you are feeling like God’s gift to humanity, remember that 75 percent of your body is comprised of nothing more than water and fat! You are ordinary at best, yet out of ordinary elements, God has made an extraordinary you. No wonder the psalmist wrote, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Here is one last amazing snapshot. Erythrocytes, or red blood cells, are another marvel of God’s awesome creative genius. The donut-shaped red cells live only four months, but during that 120-day life span they make 200,000 trips through your body before being discarded.
In addition to the red cells the body also contains 50 billion leukocytes, or white blood cells, standing guard against intruders and 100 times that many on backup in the bone marrow. The white blood cell absorbs into itself the toxins that attack our body. With each attack against invading bacteria, the white cell grows weaker until it dies, sacrificing its life for the whole.
Here then is the picture: the red cell carries oxygen, giving life to the body; the white cell sacrifices itself to prevent death in the body. Salvation and sacrifice in the blood. The story of the gospel is coursing through our veins with every beat of our heart. No wonder the Bible tells us that “the blood is the life” (Deuteronomy 12:23).
But that isn’t the most incredible part. When God created red blood cells, he knew what would be their most critical mission in history. Author and physician Richard Swenson notes, “How much blood did Christ actually shed? We have no way of knowing for sure. But without a doubt, he shed at least one red blood cell for every human who ever lived. Mathematically he would have accomplished that in His first few drops.”1 And though that was accomplished in the first few drops that fell from the cross, our salvation demanded all of it—total sacrifice.
No snowcapped peak or ocean sunset can even begin to compare to his incredible gift of love. That’s the greatest “awe” moment of them all!
1Richard Swenson, M.D., More Than Meets the Eye (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2000), 26.
Tom Ellsworth is senior minsiter with Sherwood Oaks Christian Church in Bloomington, Indiana.