By the time the morning of Monday, August 21, rolled around, the media hype leading up to the 2017 solar eclipse had reached a fever pitch. Schools cancelled classes; enthusiasts drove hours to camp out in the path of totality; shrewd opportunists sold viewing glasses for upwards of $10/pair. Our country stopped squabbling for a few moments and collectively turned our eyes to the heavens. Then, in just a matter of moments, it was over. The eclipse had come and gone like two celestial orbs passing each other in the daytime sky.
I’m the kind of person who tends to find meaning in small things. Any observable moment can be an opportunity to be reminded of some greater truth. Seeing my son take careful, deliberate steps along a wooden beam reminds me that faith is a step-by-step journey of trust; seeing my daughter learn to walk her dog responsibly reminds me that discipline is often a prerequisite for enjoyment; and seeing other parents enter the daycare on a Monday morning with diaper bags and blankets in-hand reminds me that I left our bag sitting on the dining room table.
Big moments, then - moments like when the view of the sun is perfectly blocked out by the moon in its orbit - are certainly worthy of further contemplation. Witnessing the solar eclipse Monday afternoon was magnificent. It was such a joy to sit with my two older kids and watch as the sun turned into little more than a sliver before once again reclaiming its glory among the heavens.
I'm no scientist, but here is what I do know about the sun: you can't look at it.
Attempting to do so without the proper apparatus will blind you. As in, your retinas will be burned because they cannot handle that kind of brightness. As much excitement as there was leading up to this solar eclipse, the ubiquitous warnings about eye protection and viewing safety threatened to throw a big wet blanket over the whole experience.
The Glory of God
There's a fascinating story in the book of Exodus that takes place shortly after Moses leads the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness. God calls him up to a mountaintop and gives him the Law, effectively establishing the Israelites as a nation – God's people – and thereby fulfilling, in part, the promise made to Abraham centuries earlier. As Moses receives this word from God, he makes a fascinating request: "Now show me your glory." The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of food in the wilderness, it was not enough. Moses wanted to actually see God.
And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen (Exodus 33:19-23, NIV).
God grants Moses' request, albeit with a significant warning: no one can see the face of God. It would be too much for the human soul to handle. Far worse than scorched retinas, the result would be instant death. Still, God did as He promised and passed his presence in front of Moses.
The Scripture tells us that even this tiny glimpse of God’s presence had a profound effect on Moses. His face shone with the reflection of God's glory. So intense was the glow radiating from Moses’ own face that he had to wear a veil in order to protect those around him, who were terrified of this new, ultra-radiant Moses. There is nothing like the glory of God!
How foolish it seems, then, that the Israelites – the very people whom God rescued from the bondage of slavery by many signs and wonders – would decide that this same God in all his glory and power and majesty was somehow not enough. Yet that's precisely what they did. They begin to fashion gods and idols out of their own gold and silver. The statues they formed were representative of their hearts, which were being pulled away from the God who saves to the idols who give only the semblance of satisfaction, gratification, and control.
While it might be easy to judge those particular Israelites for their foolishness, the Bible is clear that the same problem has persisted throughout human history.
Worshipping Lesser Things
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:1-25, NIV).
We are not ignorant or unaware of God. He has not made himself hidden or unavailable. His glory is wrapped in creation. His fingerprints are all over every aspect of our existence. The questions of eternity and meaning are written in the depths of our hearts, the pursuit of which draws us continually towards discovering Him in new and fresh ways.
Yet we persist in trading Him out for other pursuits. Rather than knowing God and being fully known by Him, we have traded His glory for the filthy rags of our own selfish desires. Like the moon passing in front of the sun, the love, awe, astonishment, and wonder we should have for the magnificent glory of God has been eclipsed by something infinitely smaller and darker. Science tells us the sun is powerful enough to light and warm the earth from 93 million miles away. In contrast, the moon has no such power. In fact, the light emitted by the moon at night does not shine by its own power; rather, it is a reflection of the sun’s rays bouncing off the surface of the moon that gives the moon its glow.
How foolish are we, then, to set our eyes and our hearts on created things: money, power, sex, physical pleasure, anything at all, rather than the God who created those things to begin with. We have traded the burning glory of God for a barren and darkened substitute.
The moon attests to the magnificence of the sun’s brightness. A solar eclipse - a majestic celestial alignment - testifies even further. Even at 95% blockage like I witnessed with my children, a sliver of sunlight is still powerful enough to illuminate the earth.
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
What, then, do we look at? If God seems hidden and transcendent, an idea more than a reality, the temptation would be to easily drift our eyes towards lesser things. Yet in Jesus we are given the means by which to see and know God. He is the visible image of the invisible God. Like the solar glasses we wore on Monday afternoon to look upwards, Jesus is the lens through which we can see God in all his glory. His love, justice, mercy, power, compassion, and holiness were made real, in human flesh and blood, for us to see and touch. By looking to him we are looking to God. By fixing our eyes on Jesus, the lesser things become that which they were created to be: objects and subjects of enjoyment, not worship.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).