I was in Hong Kong recently on my way back from work in Thailand, and my travel companion took me to Victoria Harbor to view the Symphony of Lights, a multimedia laser light show, which involves more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbor. It occurs every night in Hong Kong and it’s dazzling. The daytime cityscape from the harbor is quite impressive with its massive buildings and upscale infrastructures, but to see it at night is an entirely different view. Hong Kong attracts people from all over the world to view this 13-minute light show. I looked around and saw hundreds of people from all walks of life—young and old, and heard countless different languages. It seemed as if the whole world was there on this random night in June.
When the light show commenced, I looked hard at the night sky and noticed that it was covered in clouds. The city prefers the cloud cover because the laser lights are deeper and brighter under the cloudy sky. As the crowd excitedly reflected on the last 13 minutes and exchanged pictures from their cell phones, I tried searching the sky for the stars, but I knew that even if the clouds weren’t there, neither would the stars. With city lights reflecting from enormous buildings and hundreds of shops and cars, even a clear sky would give a non-impressive view of the stars. We could probably even count them.
This reminded me of a beautiful conversation between a doubting Abraham and a faithful God:
And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6 NASB)
Abraham’s doubt evolved after living several years without seeing the fruit of God’s promise to give him an heir. He was aging, Sarah was aging, and no son of their own was given. So Abraham inquired of God, and God showed him the night sky filled with thousands upon thousands of stars. God challenged Abraham to count them, knowing full well he couldn’t. It wasn’t an opportunity to belittle Abraham, but a demonstration of God’s greatness. It’s as if He was saying, “Abraham, only I can create this wonder. If I can create this and put it in order and give it to you for your viewing pleasure, don’t you think I can fulfill my promise to you?”
My family and I vacationed once in McCall, Idaho, and we were invited to a friend’s cabin in the high woods of the Payette National Forest. We enjoyed a day of water skiing, hiking and an outdoor cookout. Evening drew near and we put our children to bed and then went outside to visit with our friends. Everyone took a seat in the lawn chairs, but the moment I looked to the sky I immediately jumped to my feet. I saw something I’d never seen before: layer upon layer of stars! They deeply filled the entire night sky from end to end. It was mesmerizing and enchanting, brilliant and intimidating. I could scarcely breathe, let alone speak. It’s truly the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen and is forever etched in my mind. This is a picture of what I see when I read the passage in Genesis.
Most of us who are city dwellers can’t relate to a vast night sky filled with countless stars, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We take our children out to the front yard and point to constellations as if that’s all there is. We forget that the layer we see is only a fraction of what lies further still, of what is hidden because of our man-made structures of convenience living.
In an article published June 2011, The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy reports that the world’s urban population will double from 3 billion in 2000 to 6 billion in 2050, with nearly all such growth occurring in developing countries. Our children will grow up in these cities, unable to comprehend Abraham’s view of God’s promise. It will have to be discovered and rediscovered through intentional research, or by chance on a trip to the wilderness.
Fortunately, however, belief in God doesn’t happen by looking at the stars. When Abraham looked at the night sky unfolded before him, he didn’t believe because of the vast number of stars (and the promise of countless descendants), he believed because he looked further still into the very heart of God, the Creator of the created thing. What he finally understood was God’s promise unfolding through the gentle sweep of time.
Metaphorically and tangibly, we’re still building our Towers of Babel when God simply wants us to look up and see Him. When we truly see Him, we believe, and our faith is established. And like Abraham, doubt diminishes and we are counted as righteous. Nothing else we do on this side of heaven will make that kind of righteousness possible. We can even try to remanufacture God’s work, but like laser lights on the Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, it’s our work, not His. And it’s never better than His own design.
Abraham didn’t have to see the stars to believe, and his belief didn’t bring him righteousness. God did. God’s eternal truth is handed down through time, from Abraham to all his descendants, making a gospel of faith enduring and unchanging. And even when we lack a clear view of His promise, or when we try to make it something it isn’t, it doesn’t change.
When I walked away from the harbor that evening, the excitement of the laser light show quickly diminished. And although I felt a little sad that this vast city with all its inhabitants might never see God’s light show as He revealed to Abraham, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost the chance to see God or know Him. God is bigger than our greatest innovations and He certainly doesn’t need the night sky to prove Himself. While innovation may challenge how we share the gospel of Christ to our future urban generations, the gospel itself is never changed, and neither are God’s promises. We must live for that truth.