The collision of urban legend & truth
Some creative people have named the picture at left "the eye of God". The urban legend is that the people at NASA named it when the Hubble Space Telescope beamed the pictures back to earth. it's actually titled "Helix Nebula". I remember rejoicing the first time I saw the picture. To imagine that a group of scientists would even think "the eye of God" in this picture was a thrilling leap in the culture wars. Poor me!
Then, truth and pop mythology collide. That cosmic gasses and particles from the explosion of a distant star can take the form of a gigantic human eye is enough for someone to assign such a heavenly name to our nearest nebula. It is the stuff of urban legend for sure, an anthropomorphic (look it up) wish to visualize God in terms that a mere human can comprehend. So, truth is, the NASA team didn't visualize "the eye of God" when they first marveled at this picture. Well, condition that by the reality that some believer on the team may have actually thought it. But, the picture is a more cosmological phenomenon to the experts. The "eye of God" label is the urban legend.
Then, there is truth. Scripture is clear that God sees. How that happens is a mystery not revealed to us (see Deuteronomy 29:29). But that it happens is attested by many biblical references, including the following:
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
Psalm 34:15, ESV
For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps.
Job 34:21, ESV
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the
eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Hebrews 4:13, ESV
That God watches over us is really an elementary truth that most people my age learned in Beginners (look that up too). Back then we didn't ponder the theological foundations of his omnipresence or omniscience but imagined "the eyes of God" giving unique and special attention to his children. In adulthood, that God is aware of us is one of the first things we whisper to those experiencing the cruelties of a broken world. When there's trouble we're quick to remind friends and family of God's intimate care and that he is looking over us in our hardship. It's a dose of comfort that we all need at times.
In thirty-five years of pastoral leadership I've noticed that it's also one of the first truths that we forget when those same trials and tests move into our house. The weight and horror of personal suffering often creates in us an unholy amnesia where the first things of faith are obscurred by our blood, sweat, and tears. I cannot count the number of times I've talked to pastors, church staff members, and other spiritual leaders in times of genuine pain and reminded them of God's knowledge and care for them. Sometimes those words sound like Hallmark sentiment or mere holy language to ease the moment. Deeper, however, is the truth that God is actually aware of our human condition, does actually see the discouragement and frustration of the messes that haunt our lives, and does actually hear our pleas for his intervention.
Years ago when we entered seminary we moved into an old house across the street from Mackey Hall, the main student center of SEBTS at the time. It was a creepy house that had been occupied for years by old maid daughters of a Wake Forest College professor. On one of the first nights our two year old son was frightened by the sounds of that old house. He came to our door nervous and tentative and I took him back to his bed. As I tucked him in I told him God was watching over him and would take care of him during the night, typical dad talk. After he went back to sleep I was leaving when I heard another voice, that of our four year old daughter. She asked, "Will God watch over me too?" She also needed those comforting reminders.
That's a question asked by many people, including many seasoned pastors and spiritual leaders who are in the grip of some horrific life experience. The demands of leadership, feelings of inadequacy for the role, and the fact that something painful has landed on a choice servant often creates the illusion that suddenly we are exempted from his care, or that he is visiting this trial on us because we haven't measured up. It is important, especially for those entrusted with strategic kingdom assignments, to know his knowledge of their circumstances and his care for them. Elementary, perhaps. But, critical nonetheless.
Over the years I've shared Psalm 121:3 with many people. In most instances it was a brief source of comfort to calm the storms that had swept over them in a personal crisis. In most cases it was the NIV rendering---
He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.
When our son Brian was murdered in 2011 we were devastated. It was pain and grief that we never imagined. As we were standing in that long line during the funeral home visitation one of our church members slipped a piece of paper into my hand. It was a note that I had given her at the sudden death of her husband, Psalm 121:3, NIV, scribbled by my hand. It was such a blessing in a dark hour. I knew that verse and the truth it communicated. But, the reminder comforted me more than I can express.
it made me think of the Helix Nebula that created the urban legend about "the eye of God". But, it was truth and not an urban legend.
Truth that needs to be spoken more often, and to people who are asking, "Me too?".