Show “Creation Calls” video.
Think for a moment about the sounds that you enjoy hearing. The sound of crashing waves. Of birds singing. Of water running over rocks in a brook. Of rain pattering against a roof. Of thunder in the distance. Of a fire crackling in a firepit on a cool autumn evening. The sound of your beloved whispering in your ear. The sound of children playing. The sound of a grand piano, or a magnificent organ, or a guitar in the hands of a master musician. Every moment of every day our ears pick up the sounds that surround us. Some of those sounds aren’t so pleasant. The sound of a honking horn. Screeching tires. Bellowing voices. Blaring sirens. Gunfire on city streets. A mother is easily awakened by the slightest noise made by her baby sleeping nearby. But for all that we hear, we miss most of the sound going on around us. Sounds that even the finest of human ears cannot pick up.
Research in the field of bioacoustics has revealed that every day we are surrounded by millions of ultrasonic songs. Did you know, for instance, that the electron shell of the carbon atom produces the same harmonic scale as the Gregorian chant? Or that whale songs can travel thousands of miles underwater? Or that meadowlarks have a range of three hundred notes? Supersensitive sound instruments have discovered that even earthworms make faint staccato sounds! Arnold Summerfield, the German physicist and pianist, observed that a single hydrogen atom, which emits one hundred frequencies, is more musical than a grand piano, which only emits eighty-eight frequencies.
Science writer Lewis Thomas summed it up it this way: “If we had better hearing, and could discern the [singing] of sea birds, the rhythmic [drumming] of schools of mollusks, or even the distant harmonics of [flies] hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet.”[i]
As we continue our series “Why We Sing” from the last five Psalms in the book of Psalms, turn with me in your Bibles to Psalm 148:1-6.
The Psalmist begins with a cosmic focus. “Praise the LORD from the heavens.” Sun, moon, and stars. Highest heavens. The universe itself is in view, and in all of its glory is engaged in the act of praising God. From sounds that we cannot hear to sights that we as human beings cannot see, the universe is one big act of praise to God. Our universe is immense, and expanding. Best estimates are that the universe we inhabit is about 93 billion light years in diameter. That’s as far as we can tell. Most of us can’t even comprehend something that vast. They call it the “observable” universe because we can’t see any farther than that yet. And that number is with earth at the center, and there’s no evidence at all that earth is the center of the universe. Now, a light year is the distance light travels in a year, or about 9.5 trillion miles. Now even the number one trillion is something most of us can’t imagine. Think about it this way. You know how long a second is, right? Unless it’s Eli being told its time to “tech down” and he says “in a sec.” He means about 20 minutes. But a second is basically the snap of a finger, isn’t it. So a million seconds ago was twelve days ago. Now, a billion seconds ago? May 1983. A billion is a lot larger than a million. A trillion seconds ago? 2700 B.C. To give it some scale, our planet is almost 93 million miles from the sun, and it takes light 8 minutes and 20 seconds to cover that distance. So if you left earth flying at the speed of light, not of sound, which is a barrier we can break, but of light, a speed we haven’t even come close to approaching, it would take you 46.5 billion years to fly to the edge of the known universe. And what’s beyond that. We don’t know. We do know that there are 10 trillion galaxies in this universe, and the number of stars? Roughly 1 to the 24th power. That’s a 1 with 24 “0”s after it. But for all that we can see, most of it, we can’t.
Today astronomers have come down on the side of believing that galaxies and galaxy clusters are pregnant with some sort of exotic material that is invisible to us—they are calling it dark matter. They haven’t yet identified what it is exactly—or even established that it truly exists—but it is not for lack of trying. Despite decades of using every imaginable means of detection—from gamma-ray telescopes in outer space to cryogenic subatomic particle monitors buried deep inside a northern Minnesota mine—their occasional, tantalizing reports of success remain as unreliable as Elvis sightings. And dark matter isn’t even the most astonishing thing modem astrophysicists have discovered about gravity. Astrophysicists have discovered another mystifying reality—they call it dark energy. All told, astronomers have concluded that dark energy comprises some 68 percent of the total universe and dark matter, about 27 percent. That means only 5 percent of the entire universe is visible to us! In other words, everything we call scientific knowledge is based on but a pittance of what there is to know about our world. Ninety- five percent of it is hidden from us. Even with all of our advances our science is 95 percent in the dark about the universe it seeks and claims to understand; about what is real or not, what is possible or not—even about a prosaic force that exists literally right under our noses.[ii]
In a universe as big as this one, at least 93 billion light years from one end to the other, and of which we can see less than 5% of what’s there, all of it is engaged in the act of praising a God who is infinitely greater than the universe itself. The prophet Isaiah asks us this question: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?” (Is. 40:12). His answer is Yahweh, the LORD. God almighty. And that God is beyond our capacity to comprehend. But he has made himself known. Look at Vv. 7-13.
The Psalmist’s focus shifts from the heavens to the earth. This tiny planet that we inhabit. Seems big to us. But it’s all about your perspective. To someone who lives on a city lot, the 6 acres on which Becky and I live and raise our family seems massive. But to us, our farmer friend’s 500 acres seems immense and filled with endless possibility and adventure. And to that farmer friend, a western rancher’s thousands of acres seem immense. It’s all about your perspective. And the psalmist wants us to have a heavenly perspective. To understand the immensity of God. But he also wants us to know that this immense, all-powerful, incomprehensible God sees this tiny planet.
An article in Discovery magazine noted a new study that suggests there are around 700 quintillion planets in the universe, but only one like Earth. The article states:
It’s a revelation that’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden arrived at this staggering figure—a 7 followed by 20 zeros—with the aid of a computer model. Zackrisson found that Earth appears to have been dealt a fairly lucky hand. In a galaxy like the Milky Way, for example, most of the planets Zackrisson’s model generated looked very different than Earth—they were larger, older and very unlikely to support life. One of the most fundamental requirements for a planet to sustain life is to orbit in the “habitable zone” of a star—the “Goldilocks” region where the temperature is just right and liquid water can exist. [In conclusion], Earth is more than your garden-variety planet.[iii]
And this tiny planet is filled with wonder. From immense sea creatures to the tiniest living organisms and oceans so deep that we cannot go there ourselves. We’ve gone to the moon, but we haven’t personally viewed the deepest parts of the ocean. The power of storms, the beauty of the mountains and plains, the changing of the seasons, the grandeur of human culture and society. “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted” says the psalmist.
Author Philip Yancey describes a moment of profound wonder and awe in Alaska’s wilderness. He was driving down the road when he came upon a number of cars pulled off to the edge of the highway. Like any of us would have done, he stopped to see what everyone was looking at. Yancey describes the scene:
Against the slate-gray sky, the water of an ocean inlet had a slight greenish cast, interrupted by small whitecaps. Soon I saw these were not whitecaps at all, but whales—silvery white beluga whales in a pod feeding no more than fifty feet offshore. I stood with the other onlookers for forty minutes, listening to the rhythmic motion of the sea, following the graceful, ghostly crescents of surfacing whales. The crowd was hushed, even reverent. For just that moment, nothing else—dinner reservations, the trip schedule, life back home—mattered. We were confronted with a scene of quiet beauty and a majesty of scale. We felt small. We strangers stood together in silence until the whales moved farther out. Then we climbed the bank together and got in our cars to resume our busy, ordered lives that suddenly seemed less urgent.[iv]
The Psalmist has taken us from the grandeur of the universe to the beauty and majesty of this tiny planet, but he doesn’t stop there. He gets even more intimate. Look at V. 14. He talks about the people of God. You see, not only does our immense, all-powerful, incomprehensible God see and love this tiny planet on which we live, he sees his people on this tiny planet. And he came to this tiny planet in the form of one of us. When God the Son came in the person of Jesus Christ, this immense, all-powerful, incomprehensible God made himself like us, and walked among us, and allowed us in our insignificant smallness to nail him to a cross and put him through the most unbearable death humankind has invented, to forgive us. To shower us with his grace and mercy. How many of us have ever stepped on an ant? Anyone? Most of us have at one point or another. And how many of us have cried about it, about the loss of a single ant? I’d guess none of us. They’re insignificant to us, to our lives. In the eyes of this universe, we are much smaller to God than the smallest ant is to us. And yet God sees us. Loves us. Cares for us. Each one of us. Every human being that is suffering right now.
But we’re different than the rest of creation. This psalm is actually closely tied to Genesis 1. It’s poetic language echoes the poetry of Genesis 1, which is written in Hebrew poetic form, but the way. And Genesis 1:27 tells us that we are created by God in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Now, I could fill my office from floor to ceiling and wall to wall with theological books and papers on what it means to be created in the image of God. It’s a huge topic. And according to this verse, male and female coming together are a part of the image of God in us. It is our relationality. But there’s another aspect too. And that is our ability to choose. From the highest of heavens to the smallest speck of dust on this tiny planet, all of creation is praising God because it must. But as human beings created in the image of God, we must choose to worship God. And so often, I choose not to. Author and speaker Stormie Omartian tells this story: “I can’t do it!” I cried to God. “I can’t handle the housework, my work, the loneliness of a husband who works so much.” Then I sensed the Holy Spirit saying, You are trying to do everything on your own strength. Just worship me–and I’ll do the rest. I said out loud, “I praise you, God, in the midst of my situation. Thank you that nothing is too hard for you.” Slowly, the pressure left–my burden was now his. Praise isn’t always my first reaction to frustration, so I have to remind myself to do it. But now, when my flesh can’t go any further, I stop and worship God.[v]
Margaret Sangster Phippen wrote that in the mid 1950s her father, British minister W. E. Sangster, began to notice some uneasiness in his throat and a dragging in his leg. When he went to the doctor, he found that he had an incurable disease that caused progressive muscular atrophy. His muscles would gradually waste away, his voice would fail, his throat would soon become unable to swallow. Sangster threw himself into his work in British home missions, figuring he could still write and he would have even more time for prayer. “Let me stay in the struggle Lord,” he pleaded. “I don’t mind if I can no longer be a general, but give me just a regiment to lead.” He wrote articles and books, and helped organize prayer cells throughout England. “I’m only in the kindergarten of suffering,” he told people who pitied him. Gradually Sangster’s legs became useless. His voice went completely. But he could still hold a pen, shakily. On Easter morning, just a few weeks before he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter. In it, he said, “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’–but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout.”[vi]
Do you have a voice this morning? Then shout his praise. Has life beaten you down to the point where you can’t praise God? Then let us praise God for you, around you, until you can praise again. “Praise the LORD from the heavens … Praise the LORD from the earth … Praise the LORD you people of God, for he is worthy of our praise.
[i] Adapted from Mark Batterson, All In (Zondervan, 2013), pp. 118-119
[ii] Michael Guillen, Amazing Truths (Zondervan, 2016), pages 59-60
[iii] Adapted from Nathaniel Scharping, “Earth May Be a 1-in-700-Quintillion Kind of Place,” Discovery (2-22-16)
[iv] Steve DeWitt, Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Credo House Publishers, 2012), p. 68
[v] Stormie Omartian, “Heart to Heart,” Today’s Christian Woman.
[vi] Vernon Grounds, Denver, Colorado. Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 1