Lessons from Wine and Nebulas
As a little boy, I stared into the night sky from my bedroom window almost every night. On my wall hung a framed signature of Buzz Aldrin. Suspended below a ceiling of glow-in-the-dark stars, carefully detailed models of the planets and the spacecraft with which they had been explored orbited my bed. My desk was covered with the crayon drawings of space stations and rockets I hoped to one day build. And if you turned on my TV, you'd find that IMAX Destiny in Space had taken up permanent residence in my VCR.
The bigness of the universe captivated me. There were infinite new worlds to be explored. And it was real. As insane, beautiful, dangerous, and large as space is, it actually exists.
And buried within these thoughts of far off worlds is an inescapable truth with profound implications: By far - by far - the majority of the universe will never be seen by human eyes, or touched by human hands, or heard with human ears. It took us thousands of years of learning and 9 years of traveling through space just to see the surface of Pluto - a planetary body practically next door. And yet, the nearest star is 8,000 times further than pluto. To give perspective, if the sun were a grain of sand, the nearest star would be another grain of sand 5 miles away.
The nearest galaxy? That's 4,970,000,000,000 (4.97 trillion) times further away than Pluto. And there are about 100,000,000,000 known galaxies in the observable universe. If each galaxy were a grain of sand, you could fill an olympic sized swimming pool with all the galaxies we are aware exist.
Oh, and scientists call it the "observable universe" because we don't even know if that's as large as the universe is - it's just all that we can see. In fact, it is likely that the universe is much larger, but space is literally expanding faster that light can reach us. Our ability to even know the size of the universe is limited - forever.
There are worlds we will never, ever, ever, know even exist.
This is God. A craftsman of deeply iridescent worlds extending to an endless oblivion in all directions. And yet, from our tiny perspective on earth, we see that he is a creator who intricately shapes the details, from the ephemeral to the eternal. Ants, dogs, dust, rain drops, sunsets, smooth pebbles, maple leaves, waterfalls, fingerprints, electrons, blueberries, the smell of a summer rain - God has forged his ineffable universe carefully, intentionally, and personally to his liking. Each sonorous strike of his ethereal hammer drumming into being the laws of the universe as adamantine kings, charged to govern with unquestioned, steadfast resolve - gravity, time, magnetism, the nuclear forces.
And then, God created us.
If you read any scripture further than Genesis, you'll find there is no denouement of God's creation. God wasn't creator, he is creator. Each second he continues to weave together the DNA of cells in a human embryo and compresses billions of miles of hydrogen in the forgeries of stars.
It is perhaps, no surprise, that when God lives among humans as a human himself, his first miracle is both an act of creation and of celebration.
In the second chapter of the book of John, Jesus attends a wedding and is approached by his mother when the wine runs out. Jesus asks for large jars of water and proceeds to transform the water into wine. The guests, already at least a little drunk from the party, wouldn't have known the difference between an aged merlot and a warm bud light - and yet, Jesus creates for the party the best wine. Who is surprised? The very universe we live in declares with endless evidence that God makes only the very best.
The heavens evidence a unimaginably enormous creator who constructs worlds for his sole enjoyment and glory. They echo a God who is so vast, that like astronomers of theology, the most intelligent scholars among us may only observe distant points of light - a fraction of an infinite truth - which God himself revealed to us through his Word and through Jesus.
By contrast, the wine evidences a personal craftsman involved in the relationships of humankind, that by contrast, may seem meaningless compared to the activity of an entire universe. And yet, God exercised his authority over all matter to serve the best wine to his friends. Beyond caring for quality, I don't think we should miss that Jesus literally kept this party going.
You could make the argument (and I certainly would) that all people are meant to reflect that same love for making something new as God himself. As a person whose job is literally to make things that direct people to Jesus, I personally find so much enlightenment from these first two chapters of John. And there are a few lessons God has begun to teach me that emerge from seeing him as both the creator of an unknowable universe and an excellent winemaker.
Lessons from wine and nebulas
1. The universe is not about me - it exists because of and for the enjoyment of God
Don't be fooled by fame, money, authority, or talent - everything in the universe is about God. Success cannot measured by my knowability, because there is a fixed maximum to all my "success." And that maximum is unbelievably tiny. Rather than fight for the illusion of my own name and happiness, it is far more fulfilling to join in the song of the stars and sing the praise of my father in heaven.
The universe is not about me. The universe is not about me.
2. Everything God makes is the best.
There is significance in the declaration of all things "good" in the first chapter of Genesis. Though, as McManus astutely points out in his book, The Artisan Soul, we tend to think as "good" being lesser than "great," such a perspective misunderstands the meaning of goodness. Whether stars or wine, God makes only the best. It is not in his nature to ship a product early, before the fermentation is complete. And yet from galaxies, to the grapevine, to you, nothing he has made is less than of the finest quality. And you are made in his image.
Imitate his attention to quality in all things.
Make the best you can. Create the best things, forge the best friendships, make the best of bad situations, and never forget that God made you.
3. The best wine was once water.
I can find myself discouraged by my insufficiency, my lack of ____________. I feel more like water than wine, and often, I am disappointed by that fact. Yet, Jesus is both the completeness that I desire for myself, being all that I ever need, and the artisan of my character. Jesus doesn't leave me where he found me.
And just as God continues to shape the canyons of distant planets, he continues to craft my heart and my mind. When I feel more like water than wine, I only have to remember that God is the artist and he is not finished with me yet. Rather than stagnate in my incompleteness, lamenting the ingredients I bring to the table, I can celebrate his goodness, and know that he is making me new, each and every day. He isn't done with me (and, back to lesson 1, it's not about me anyway).
Photos by Hubble Space Telescope or myself - not comparable photographers, just clarifying :)