(Featured Image: “EHT Saggitarius A black hole.tif” by EHT Collaboration is licensed under CC by 4.0)
Job 28: 20-21, 23-28
“’Where then does wisdom come from?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air. …
“God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight
and apportioned out the waters by measure,
when he made a decree for the rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
then he saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to humankind,
‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
and to depart from evil is understanding.’”
An Image of a Black Hole
“God sees everything under the heavens.” Does that mean God sees nebulae, supernovae, and galaxies? What about black holes, dark matter, and even empty space? Can God see wonders beyond the scope of human vision and technology?
Through new technologies, it feels like it is only a matter of time before we too will be able to see everything. My first-grade daughter came home all excited recently: “Daddy, they took a picture of a black hole at the center of the universe. Do you want to see it?” Her enthusiasm proclaimed wisdom; it is absolutely amazing, inviting you to see it.
I’m guessing you’ve seen it by now. The image of Sagittarius A* is amazing indeed. Perhaps just as amazing is the way a global network of researchers figured out how to make visible something that almost by definition is invisible. An utterly frightful object—something that swallows everything within its horizon, including light—was on the home page of most news outlets thanks to human technology, ingenuity, and coordination.
View and Reflect: Watch the European Southern Observatory explain how researchers used a collection of radio telescopes to image a black hole. Ponder human ingenuity and coordination to help us “see” something so fantastic as a black hole. What else could we “see” if we only applied the same effort?
Amazing Sights Seen and Unseen
Brother Guy Consolmagno, the head of the Vatican Observatory, tells the story of looking at the stars through a telescope during his time in Kenya as a Peace Corp volunteer. “When I would visit and set up the telescope in those villages, everybody in the village wanted to look through the telescope, just like the people in Michigan. And everybody went, ‘Wow!’ when they saw the rings of Saturn, just like the people in Michigan. And that’s because we’re all human beings and that’s how human beings react.”
What science and technology allow us to see—from planetary rings to black holes; from a spiral of DNA to mitosis—expands so far beyond that of the naked eye. We magnify, model, and translate images beyond the visible light spectrum. The results are … Wow!
And yet, there is so much we haven’t seen; or never thought to try to see. There are also things we can’t see, even with advancing technologies. An image of a black hole at the center of our galaxy should invoke awe, but so should the awareness of all that exists that we cannot see.
Pause and Reflect: (1) Recall an awe-some display. Relive your response—wonder, fear, a sense of something greater than yourself—after that sight of God’s creation hit your visual cortex. (2) Now recall something you should have seen if only you had thought to look. Relive the emotions that came with missing out on something you wish you had seen. (3) Lastly, ponder the things you may never see—past, present, and future. How does it make you feel to know that God sees everything under the heavens?
Wisdom from God’s View
Job, as you know, is the story of an upright prophet struggling to understand his personal suffering. Despite his efforts to be faithful, God does not spare him. Chapter 28’s verses on wisdom interrupt all the arguments and counterarguments around Job’s predicament to inform us that perspective—God’s and our own—is essential for wisdom.
Human ingenuity allowed Job’s contemporaries to find rare metals buried in the earth that were invisible to the human eye (28:1ff). Our ability to see, mediated by technologies that now allow us to see deep into the heavens, is remarkable. Still, our ability to see is utterly unremarkable when compared to God’s view.
God sees everything under the heavens—Job’s comings and goings as well as nebulae, black holes, even dark matter. This passage connects God’s expansive view to both wisdom and understanding. God knows why Job is suffering and what lies beyond Sagittarius A*’s event horizon.
The ability to see—and to know the limitations of our perspective—is connected to wisdom for us as well. “Fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” declares Job 28:28. Awe is the word we most often use to describe the feeling we get when we see the majesty of creation—be it the weight of the wind or a thunderbolt; an image of a black hole or the rings of Saturn. But Job describes our reaction to such sights not as awe, but as the fear of the Lord. Creation’s awesome splendor, even when viewed through human ingenuity, is one of the ways God leads us to wisdom.
I am pretty sure my daughter’s amazement—in Jesus’ words, an invitation to “become humble like [a] child” (Matt 18:4)—was God’s leading.
Alongside scientists, photographers, artists, and others, she directs our gaze to attend to that which is both heavenly and humbling. She encourages both curiosity and perspective. She points us to “the fear of the Lord, [the] wisdom” revealed to us whenever and wherever the heavens declare the glory of the Lord.
Her sweet voice beckons, “Do you want to see it?”