This past summer I went back-packing in the Sierras with part of my family. For two nights we camped beside a lake at an elevation of about 9,500 feet. As one who lives in the middle of the seventy-mile-broad megalopolis of the Los Angeles basin, this campsite afforded my first chance in many years to see the fullness of the starry heavens without the interference of city lights. We could even see the Milky Way reflected in the lake as it arched up from behind a snowy peak behind us.
At first a feeling of uneasiness crept over me as I considered my smallness in comparison with such inconceivable vastness. There was the Milky Way, the thick part of the galaxy of which our sun is but one of many millions of stars, and out beyond our galaxy there are millions of other galaxies, each with many millions of stars. And here stood I, aptly likened in Scripture to a vapor that appears for a few minutes and then passes away. Being so pathetically small in comparison to such a universe, how could I believe that the God who created all the vastness was nevertheless basically concerned with my welfare?
But then I remembered the biblical teaching that it is just because of my smallness that God loves me. God takes delight in the weak and small things of this world in order to emphasize that he blesses men out of mercy, and not because they have earned his favor. “God chose what is low and despised … so that no human being might boast in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:28). If God blessed people in proportion to their worth, this would mean that his blessings were given so that they would be obligated to return the favor by using their worth to help God meet his needs.
But the God who made heaven and earth is “not … served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all people life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25). Likewise, the Psalmist said that God takes no delight in the strength and resources that certain individuals may have. Rather, “the Eternal takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his graciousness” (Psalm 147:11).
So I let my smallness, so emphasized by the star-filled sky of that Sierra night, argue for just how much God loved me.
I also thought how dreadful it would be to arouse the displeasure of the God so mighty and glorious as to create and sustain such a universe. God becomes angry with people chiefly because they refuse to regard all his blessings as expressions of grace. Because grace means goodness which flows from his delight in himself, we should not boast in what we are and do. But we prefer to think of God as an employer who bestows his benefits like wages because we have worked hard and well enough to deserve them.
To think this way, though, means we are worshiping ourselves instead of the God whose glory is so awesomely represented by the star-filled sky of a Sierra night. So it is no wonder that God becomes angry with us for scorning his glory and preferring to worship ourselves and our works.
As I beheld that star-filled sky, my initial reaction of fear and anxiety came instinctively from this sin of thinking that God would love me only if I were great enough to place him in my debt. And I was reminded again how much I need the Lord to help me overcome my sinful tendency to live by works instead of faith.
The Lord says, “The just shall live by faith: but if anyone draws back (from faith), my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38).
Daniel P. Fuller