Do you remember the first time you were ever captivated by the stars?
The first time it happened to me they weren’t exactly stars, which means this may not count. We went on a field trip to the planetarium in middle school and Crystal, the buxom girl with the braces, sat beside me for the viewing. Of course I was excited about this. But when the room lit up and they started going through the constellations, I was amazed enough to forget about her. Since we were number one city-dwellers and number two pretty much in church all the time in those days, I was mostly only in tune to the kinds of signs and wonders one saw in the midst of a campmeeting service. These were all indoor wonders. I was less into seeing nature and beauty or order in the cosmos as signs, and more into seeing crutches get broken. But this opened me up to something else.
Then to get back outside at night and discover that these spectacular constellations really weren’t the unique property of the planetarium, that in fact these dazzling images came out of hiding every night when the sun went down. Constellations are a uniquely beautiful thing, glorious patterns amongst the galaxy’s freckles.
That wasn’t the last time I saw something so beautiful in creation that it took my breath away. Where the order, placement, arrangement and sheer beauty of a thing just assaults you with wonder. I’ve found the sky is hardly the only place where you can find constellations. Anytime you see that kind of beauty, in cosmos or in the person next to you, it’s an occasion for worship. As of late, I’ve been reminded by constellations decidedly outside the sky that terrestrial beauty gives me as much reason for adoration as the celestial.
I occasionally find myself making slightly disparaging remarks about certain systems of apologetics–various systems people use to defend their faith. Maybe that is because beauty is enough for me. I don’t claim all apologetics are altogether without value. I just think they often answer questions people aren’t really asking anymore. Or in recent years, I just don’t think a lot of the so-called “new atheism” of the last 10 years or so quite raise robust enough questions to demand an answer. There are old school atheists that could keep the most devout among us up late at night wrestling, thinking, praying through the challenge. As the Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart demonstrates in his massive punk-down Atheists Delusions: The Christian Revolution and It’s Fashionable Enemies, we are currently not blessed with a large number of good atheists left to keep us on our toes. The new ones aren’t serious enough. But I digress. I’ve just always got my former professor Stanley Hauerwas in the back of my head reminding me that “If you need a system of truth to prop up your belief in Jesus of Nazareth, worship your system. Because you’re not really worshiping Jesus of Nazareth.”
If I did have to have apologetics to offer, it would always come back to beauty. Who needs a system in a world with this much beauty? There is so much of it. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to believe God raised Jesus from the dead in light of the extraordinary elegance I see around me. There are more complex and more nuanced ways of saying that, but at the end of the day that is always what it comes down to for me.
I do not diminish the challenges posed to us by the evil, injustice and suffering in the world. But I still can’t get over the constellations.