This post will start by revealing just how parochial I am and will end by torturing a metaphor a little. Not bad considering it’s also going to be short.
Abraham’s an old, old man, well past the age where having children with his beloved wife was a realistic proposition. This is a knife in the guts – he left his homeland, all that he knew to follow God, and yes he’s been blessed, but now he’s thinking of his own mortality and who inherits his riches? His servant. Great.
This is all about legacy in a world in which you lived on through your kids; handing everything over to a servant, to know his family would reap your rewards, is one of Abraham’s key motivators, the reason for some pretty spectacular mistakes.
But for now it’s night and it’s quiet and he’s just had a vision of God’s protection and blessing. But to Abraham it’s an empty dream because he’s an old man with no son.
And so God makes a promise and makes it visually – he takes Abraham outside his tent and tells him to count the stars because that’s how many descendants he’ll have.
Count the stars.
Like I said, I’m parochial. I live in an urban area full of lampposts and headlights and so when I look up and count the stars it’s not that difficult. Sure, I know there are plenty more out there – I read books, I watch documentaries – but I’m a townie, and so counting stars lacks a certain visual, awe-inspiring immediacy.
But then I heard a podcast that made me re-imagine all this. It was about the efforts of the National Parks Service in Utah to preserve one of the few areas in which the night sky is pitch black, in which the majesty of the heavens is still on display, unhindered by 24-7 electricity. In that sense it’s a throwback to that moment outside Abraham’s tent, looking into the sky and not just seeing a few stats but a galaxy stretched out before you.
At that moment, God’s blessing and generosity didn’t just sound abundant and extravagant, it looked it too. For someone who lives over an hour away from the nearest Dark Sky Parks it’s easy to underestimate this passage, even if I do have a couple of astronomy apps on my phone. But then it’s easy to underestimate God’s promises anyway – I do it all the time. Too much gets in the way, crowds out his voice, obscures the visions he want to give us. We look into the sky to count the stars but we can’t not because they’re too numerous and we’re too awed, but because there’s so much stuff getting in the way and threatening to make a vision into something small and disappointing.
Too much artificial light.
Abraham looked into the sky, saw stars and constellations and believed God’s promise. I pray for the faith to do the same.
(After I wrote this, I read this article on how light pollution is affecting our health. Feel free to extend the metaphor!