When was the last time you stood at the edge of the ocean and just looked?
Most of us probably enjoy visiting the beach during the summer or some other time during the year. According to its official website, Myrtle Beach attracts more than 14 million visitors every year – and that’s just one beach in a country with more than its fair share of beautiful coastline. And most of us probably do at least some of the same things when we visit the beach – lay on the sand, play in the ocean, build sandcastles, fish off a pier, get massively sunburned. Annual traditions all, for many Americans.
But when was the last time you went to the beach and just marveled at it? Just ignored all the hotels and condos and boardwalks and people, and just looked? If you really want to get an idea of where you stand in the universe, go to the beach at night and stand at the water’s edge in the dark, looking out over the expanse of the ocean under the light of the moon. You’ll get an idea of just how big you are in a few seconds flat.
It’s so easy to become so caught up in our routines and obligations and everyday chaos that we forget where we really stand in the universe. Every now and then you might see something on Facebook that tries to remind you, like a picture of the Milky Way with an arrow pointing to the miniscule speck that represents earth, but most likely that doesn’t do anything. It takes a direct encounter with creation to be reminded that you are small, and it can be a humbling experience. Many of us probably live with a somewhat exaggerated sense of our self-importance, but we are nothing in the grand scheme of things. We are tiny pieces of dirt on a small planet in a big galaxy in an infinite universe. We live, and then we die, and the earth continues to spin.
It’s not all bad, though.
Are you familiar with Job? Job was this guy in the Old Testament who found himself caught up in a crazy wager between God and Satan. Job was very wealthy and very happy and very righteous, and Satan didn’t like it one bit. One day God was talking to Satan, and he said,
Satan contends that the reason Job is so healthy and holy is because God has made him that way – he has blessed Job and protected him and given him no reason to doubt or turn from God. Satan says to God,
Somewhat surprisingly, God takes Satan on. He gives Satan the power to do whatever he pleases to Job, with one exception – he can’t kill Job. Satan immediately goes out and begins wreaking havoc on Job’s life. First he kills all of Job’s cattle and servants. Then he kills Job’s children. Then he afflicts Job with painful sores all over his body. Job’s wife tells him to just “curse God and die,” but he refuses. Scripture says,
For most of the rest of the book, Job spends his time talking with some of his friends, who offer him mostly terrible advice on how to deal with his situation. Job shows a great amount of faith in God, but by the end of the book his patience has worn thin. While his faith remains firm, Job wants one thing – to talk with God, to find out why everything has happened. And then the unthinkable happens.
God shows up.
And not only does he show up, he starts talking. The bulk of chapters 38-40 are God speaking directly to Job, reminding him of his spot in the order of things and essentially putting him in his place.
And so on and so forth.
In the end, Job remembers his place and is reminded of his favor in God’s eyes – favor earned not by his wealth or his family, but by his faith and steadfastness in his obedience to God. He says,
After all of this, God rewards Job’s faith by returning to him everything that was taken away – in fact, God gives him even more than he had before. Job wound up wealthier and with more family and general prosperity than he had ever had in his life. He lived for a long time, and then he died.
So what can we take away from all this?
The obvious is that faith will be rewarded. We may not see it in this lifetime – in fact, in all likelihood we won’t – and our lives may not look so great from time to time, but as followers of Christ we are looking at a larger picture of eternity. We look forward not to tomorrow but to the true end of time, when the faithful will take their place with God forever. We are to be like Job, looking beyond our suffering to the beauty of God’s grace.
But we can also take Job’s story as a reminder of our smallness. Consider the logistics of Job’s story – as just one small man, he unwittingly becomes the subject of a debate between God and Satan, the two warring powers of the universe. Then after everything happens and he begins to question God, that same God shows up and begins talking to him. Think about that – God, the creator of the universe and everything in it, shows up and puts Job in his place. Job is just one man, and God speaks to him. It’s really kind of incredible.
Don’t get distracted by Job, though. Don’t forget about the ocean, and the moon and the Milky Way and how really we’re just tiny molecules floating around in the atmosphere.
At this point you might be thinking, ok ok, I get it, I’m small. I’m nothing. God can do whatever he wants with my life and I have no control over it. Well, yes, that’s true. Job’s story attests to that. Dwell on this fact for too long and you might find yourself becoming depressed, and maybe a little anxious about where you stand in the order of things. You might find yourself thinking that you are just small and nothing more, and that your smallness is a testament to your worthlessness. That may seem like a big jump in logic, but if you think about it for a moment you can probably admit its truth.
Remember, God created humans last. Before us he had already made light and the earth and water and animals and plants and everything else – but he made us last, and like nothing else, he made us like him. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.
The fact of this gives us tremendous stature in the universe. In spite of our physical smallness, we are beyond important – God created us in his image, to be like him. He is invested so much in our story because we are a part of him, because we bear his likeness. Nothing else that God created is like us. We stand alone in our value. In the midst of his suffering, Job was not forgotten by God. He was chosen by God to stand as a testament of faith, he was granted an audience with God because he was patient, and in the end he was rewarded beyond measure. He was small, but he wasn’t ignored.
And of course, it doesn’t stop there. In spite of everything that happened in the Garden, with the serpent and the fruit, in spite of the way all of us spit in God’s face and turn our backs on him day after day after day, he loves us. He cherishes us. We are of such importance to him that he sent his own son to die on a cross for us. Love like that doesn’t happen every day.
So remember that you are small, and be reminded of it every day. Go stand at the edge of the ocean, or on top of a mountain, or at the lip of a canyon, and let it wash over you. Remember that you are just one speck among all the stars in the universe, and let it bring you down to earth and temper your behavior. But also remember that even though you are small, it doesn’t matter. You alone are made in the image of God, you alone are of such importance that God sent his son to die in your place. Remember that you are small, and remember that it doesn’t make a difference.