One of our family’s favorite summer activities as the children were growing up was to backpack into the nearby Cabinet Mountain Wilderness to a mountain lake and camp overnight. It was a lot of work, but oh, so rewarding to spend time in some of the most beautiful of all of God’s creation and then to lie and look up at the stars at night (we didn’t take a tent!) and marvel at the immensity of space and see an occasional meteor or passing satellite. King David, who spent much time under the stars as a shepherd in the hills of Bethlehem, wrote in the Psalms: “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Great is our Lord…” (Psa. 147:4, 5a). And the prophet Isaiah, also contemplating the greatness of God, wrote: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in a pair of scales?…Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by names; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing” (Isa. 40:12, 26). The 2010 estimate of the number of stars was 300 sextillion. That’s 300 followed by 21 zeros! God not only numbers every star (and I’m sure our estimate is way low) but has named each one!
As the Psalmist declared, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psa. 19:1). But the heavens don’t just declare the glory and greatness of our Creator, but also declare His love for us. The Psalmist also wrote: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him” (Psa. 103:11). Many have expounded on this verse, emphasizing that God’s love is unfailing and steadfast toward all who follow Him faithfully and worship Him in reverential fear. The basic thought is that God’s great love is even greater than the distance between heaven and earth. To appreciate that distance, especially in relation to God’s love, we might ask ourselves, “Just how much is ‘so’?” Let’s take a look.
The sun (which is 800,000 miles in diameter compared to 8,000 miles for the earth) is the closest star to Earth at 93 million miles. To cover that distance, light, which travels at 186,282 miles per second, takes 8.3 minutes to reach Earth. The nearest star to the sun, called “Proxima Centauri,” is about 4.22 light-years away or approximately 25 trillion miles. (A light-year is the distance light travels in a year). It would take the fastest spacecraft more than 50,000 years to get there! Wrap your brain around this mind-boggling thought, if you can: To reach the edge of the known universe would take about 15 billion light-years! The point being, God’s love is so great that it is immeasurable—it is truly awe-inspiring.
The birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and His subsequent death on the cross for our sin is a manifestation of that love, as Scripture says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). During these tension-filled days of troubles in the world and in our own nation, it would be good to focus on the simple word “so” in regard to God’s great love for you: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him” (Psa. 103:11).
“The love of God is greater far
than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
and reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
and pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forever more endure
The saints’ and angels’ song. (The Love of God by Pastor Frederick Lehman [1868-1953])